Last updated on 20-Feb-2017
My apologies right at the outset to those who feel hurt by the title of this post. But I felt that it is better to share my views on these unpleasant aspects of ashram systems rather than shove it under the carpet. Those readers who prefer to avoid reading such stuff may please skip reading the rest of this post.
The trigger for this post came from a conversation I had recently with another person about somebody who earlier was serving in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram, but later quit, got married and has children, and is now seriously considering whether he should consider serving as a full time employee in PN ashram system, if he gets the right job.
It has been my direct experience in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system, especially after Mahasamadhi, that my high level competence in software development became a threat to the Head of academic department (HOD) I was serving in. The HOD was incompetent in software development and had adopted anti-software development academic policies in the department after he had taken over as HOD. He could not tolerate the ACADEMIC SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT CONTRIBUTION success of students and me in an online schooling project that the ashram system had taken up in a big way, and so used Shakuni poison tactics, with support from higher academic authorities, to force me out of the department. For more details, readers may view my post, My May 2012 service record & record tampering related correspondence with --snip-- administrators, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/11/my-may-2012-service-record-record.html.
Essentially I had a choice of lowering my high level of competence in software development to suit the incompetence of the HOD, and become a yes-man to the HOD, to survive in the academic department where I was offering FREE SERVICE as a Visiting Faculty OR I had to leave the academic department. Since I was NOT FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT on the academic institution associated with the ashram system, for my simple ceiling-on-desires single/unmarried life, I chose the latter as the honourable, truthful and ethical option, the Sathya-Dharma option, to take.
Now I don't think my case of my high level of professional competence in my area of professional expertise becoming a problem for others, is exceptional in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system. I have heard of some similar cases where competent persons got targeted by incompetent heads and peers in the ashram system. I also think it will be similar in many other Indian ashram systems. Ashram systems are typically dictatorial and abuse of power by heads/bosses is common, if not rampant.
Given this situation, I would NOT advise Indian middle class (or lower/poor class) young married men who are professionally competent, and have young children, to leave well paid jobs in outside world and join Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system, UNLESS Bhagavan DIRECTLY instructs them to do so via a dream or vision. In the latter case (Bhagavan dream or vision instructions DIRECTLY conveyed to them), Bhagavan takes over and so we have to leave behind our human analysis stuff.
If such persons join PN system as an employee they have to learn how to survive in the system. If they are lucky, their bosses may be good. But sometimes they may land up with a boss who targets them and makes life miserable for them. They may then find that they cannot easily take the option of resigning from the ashram job and going back to outside world. I mean, it is not easy to get a suitable job again in the outside world and neither is it easy to shift a family with small children.
Higher education expenses for professional degrees like medicine or engineering, which may come into the picture around twelve years down the line for persons with K.G. going children now, is quite high and getting higher and higher in India. I have done some study on this in the past. Here's one of my blog posts related to it: Two Hindu articles on Radically reforming higher education, Student loan procedures and concerns; Aspiring Minds employment linkage to edX MOOC courses, http://eklavyasai.blogspot.in/2014/06/two-hindu-articles-on-radically.html, dated June 2014.
I know of cases where Puttaparthi locals (parents typically) have taken loans for the higher education of their children (e.g. Master of Computer Applications degree, Nursing degree) and found it/are finding it quite burdensome to service that debt. Yesterday evening a Puttaparthi local parent sought my advice for his son's engineering degree choices. I told him about Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) being a great private college for engineering (with good job placement record) but whose expenses per year may be around Rs. 2 lakhs for tuition and hostel and other stuff! So the four year engg. degree at VIT could cost around Rs. 8 lakhs for the parents.
Not every student can get a merit seat in good government funded medical and engineering educational institutions whose tuition fees (and hostel expenses) are significantly lower than reputed private colleges.
Given all this background, I think the wiser option for young professionally competent, middle class or lower class/poor people with well paid jobs in outside world, who are married and have young children, is to stay in those jobs and NOT join PN ashram system UNLESS Bhagavan DIRECTLY tells them to do so in a vision/dream. Instead I would suggest they associate in a part-time volunteer capacity with Sathya Sai orgn. or with PN ashram. PN ashram system and Sathya Sai orgn. would need knowledgeable people who donate their free services and/or donate money at times, and they would be grateful for such services rendered. I mean, that's how these ashram systems work. It is an ecosystem of top-level office bearers (like trustees), patrons/donors, ashram paid staff, ashram honorary staff (with lesser workload & responsibility than paid staff typically) and devotees.
I must also say that if a person is unmarried, or is married but does not have children dependents, and is willing to lead ceiling-on-desires life, OR is so rich that he does not have to worry about money at all, Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system job and life can be very good and spiritually quite fulfilling. One learns over time how to compromise when dealing with powermongers and envious persons who may be in powerful positions, so that one survives in PN system. There is some level of moral challenge in having to employ such compromise tactics for survival in PN system, but it is not too bad, especially as compared to the moral challenges one faces in the outside world e.g. corporate power politics in Mumbai or Bangalore or Chennai.
I think what I have written above would be applicable for most ashram systems in India, irrespective of whether it is Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist or multi-religion ashram.
I would like to end this post by sharing with readers a difficult story, in short, about a Christian pastor in a village near Puttaparthi. Note that this is about Telugu language Christian pastors catering to Telugu speaking villagers. Further note that I have been told that this(ese) particular Christian church(es) do not accept the divinity of Sathya Sai, BUT are NOT critical of him and are thankful to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for all the good that he has done to Puttaparthi and surrounding villages.
Pastor P was assigned by a seemingly medium sized Christian mission based in a well known city of Andhra Pradesh, to cater to a church in this village that was built by the Christian mission. P did the typical pastor job of conducting services, building the church community and visiting the homes of the members of his congregation for prayers and other religious activities. P seems to have been paid a regular salary for this work by the Christian mission.
A few years later the senior people in the Christian mission decided to get involved directly with this village church managed by P. This seems to have created a problem between P and his mission elders resulting in P moving away and starting a separate church in the same village! The congregation got split. P no longer seemed to have got his salary from the Christian mission (naturally), and became dependent on those congregants he was able to attract to his new church. That seems to have brought great financial pressure on pastor P and his family having three children!
Now if pastor P was an unmarried priest like Catholic priests then it would not have been such a sad situation. Note that pastor P seems to be of Protestant Christian faith which allows for married pastors.
I wish Pastor P all the very best and pray to Lord Jesus Christ to help him and his family meet these challenges that he faces. I don't know whether Pastor P got some dream/vision of Jesus Christ advising him to part ways with his earlier Christian mission and start off on his own. If so, then it is a matter of faith and I will stay silent. But if Pastor P did it on his own urge then I have to say that it seems to me that as a family man with three children he should have acted more responsibly.
Given below are some comment exchanges on Facebook post of mine,
https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1865009940382241, associated with this blog post.
Terry Reis Kennedy wrote:
Over the years I have observed the difficulties, first hand, of people with children trying to live and work in Parthi to be in the divine atmosphere. What you have written, Ravi S. Iyer, is so accurate. Thanks for posting this article. It may help people to re-think their life goals, for instance.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks a ton, Terry Reis Kennedy for your encouraging comment. It really helps me when I get such encouragement.
Terry Reis Kennedy wrote:
Many people just love your writing, Ravi S. Iyer. But hardly any take the time to express themselves. Usually, they don't understand how difficult writing and researching and organizing are. Readers assume that writers just sit down and toss things off the top of their heads.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks once again, Terry Reis Kennedy. My writing style could surely be better. However I have consciously chosen to focus on truthful capture, analysis and sharing using a hurried software developer/software analyst kind of writing style. If I take more time to polish the English language in the posts, I will not be able to cover as much ground as I do now. In other words, I am focusing on quickly logging the data and the analysis, and not bothering so much about writing style and ease of comprehension for the reader.
This leaves open the possibility that somebody down the line finds some of this content useful and decides to change the presentation of the content using more polished English language and better organization perhaps. Note that I have clearly written on my blog associated with these posts that any of my content in these blog posts can be FREELY REUSED in any way (including adaptation). That also leaves open the possibility of somebody, acting as an editor of interested posts (my content part) on my blog, creating a copyrighted work which can earn the person money (for the time & effort put in). Note that the copyright and money would be for the edited work and will NOT impact the original work being free for anybody to see and reuse.
I am not interested in having any part of such money earned by such editing work, and I would be happy for the person who earned some money from some edited versions of my posts.
Terry Reis Kennedy wrote:
Earning money for writing is so difficult. You need to find the publisher first....who really wants the work. then you give him/her what he wants......
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks for your experienced view, Terry Reis Kennedy. I think earning money for spiritual writings would be even more difficult!
I think that is why a lot of spiritual writings stuff, including editing I guess, is done by spiritual aspirants who view that work as a sadhana/spiritual effort, rather than a money earning opportunity. However, sometimes they may keep a money earning angle, at least to recover costs incurred for the work they have done.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
I should also add that low-cost-publishing (also called self-publishing if I recall correctly) seems to have come of age in India. So people can come out with printed copies of their books, at their own cost. However, book sales without the marketing effort and sales channels that a regular & reputed publisher provides, is another matter altogether.
I got some exposure to such low-cost-publishing as a correspondent of mine, a senior Indian computer scientist, Mathai Joseph, used that route or similar route, to publish his book, Digital Republic, http://mathaijoseph.com/. I mean, he did not have a regular publisher like Penguin as I think the regular Indian publishers were (perhaps rightly) skeptical of the market in India for such a book. Note that the site has review comments from some top people in Indian and international IT field.
I approached Sai Towers to put up his book on their shop window, which they agreed to when I provided a free copy for that purpose to them. But nobody showed interest in buying it even though it was there on the shop window for months!
You would know more about these Indian "self-publishing" websites. But here's one such site's plans: http://www.self-publish.in/plans.html, in case you want to have a look.
Uma Ragunathan wrote:
Anna, i support your point of view :-)
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks sister Uma Ragunathan.
Kallepalli Lakshmi Narayana Deepak wrote:
Very good post sir. One point I would like to tell; there are people at lower cadre who flatter these power mongers and hence they are able to do such asathya and adharma activities. If people at lower cadre are united, these power mongers would definitely become fishes without water. Essence is that part of the blame goes to selfish people under them
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks brother Kallepalli Lakshmi Narayana Deepak for your appreciation of my post and other parts of your comment.
See, I would not be so harsh on lower cadre paid (or honorary) ashram staff. In dictatorial/feudal systems which is what PN ashram system is, some level of sycophancy is inescapable. Those of the lower cadre paid staff who seek higher position and pay, and sometimes even honorary staff who seek higher position and power (but not pay), would note that sycophancy leads to more opportunities for career growth in the ashram system. So some of them who are keen for career growth will indulge in sycophancy. Expecting everybody in the lower cadre staff to be above such desires is not realistic.
In dictatorial/feudal systems like PN ashram system, the saying, Yatha Raja Tatha Praja (As is the King so are the subjects), is very much applicable. If the heads/bosses of various departments discourage sycophancy and encourage fair criticism within their departments, then it creates a healthy working environment even within a dictatorial/feudal system like PN ashram system. Mind you, fair criticism is based on evidence and logically developed opinions. Personal level abuse, fabricated evidence and motivated criticism to **fix** somebody is unfair criticism and should be rejected outright.
Unfortunately, in many departments of dictatorial/feudal type ashram systems like PN ashram I think that department heads/bosses view even fair criticism as attacks on them and show their displeasure when such fair criticism is made. That scares lower cadre staff into quiet submission, which in turn, over time, leads such heads/bosses to become more intolerant to fair criticism, and more encouraging of sycophancy. It is not uncommon for such heads/bosses to then live in a sycophant created artificial reality bubble, quite disconnected from the reality on the ground. Eventually the sycophancy created artificial reality bubble bursts but by then lots of damage would have been done to the department headed by such a boss.
Heading departments in dictatorial/feudal type ashram systems like PN ashram is a test of character, in my considered opinion. Will such a person stay away from abusing his/her power? The words of perhaps the most famous USA president, and from my Indian perspective the greatest USA president, Abraham Lincoln, in this context, are very apt: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." Source: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin101343.html. Perhaps this quote should be framed and put up in corridors of power in PN ashram system and other Indian ashram systems.
Taruni Tarun wrote (Edited):
Sai ram Brother .. I don't know anything about the structural functioning at Puttaparthi. Yet I can understand this and fully endorse your views that a young married person with family commitments like finanical caring for children/ family etc better be working outside. In general Puttaparthi job is perhaps ideal for post retirment life after settling children (if any) or for singles. Even for retired family persons it is best suited perhaps only after having sufficient money for taking care of self and or spouse! That is to say work at Puttaparthi for spending time in a good way as an honorary service after a certain age.
However even honorary services might not suit everybody's mindset due to various reasons like not so good boss or work environment polluted with negative qualities. In the case of honorary service not suiting the mind set .....but they want to be at parthy and pray to Swami sannidhi daily then it is better to attend the sai activities staying there as an outsider and pray at sannidhi daily or as per their wish ....but not get involved in the work activities !
Or if they want to be at parthy but dont feel like visiting sannidhi daily and are content with Swami in their hearts then better quietly stay in the pilgrimage town of parthy as that it self is a great blessing!
Coming to the world outside must say that our beloved Swami has had brilliant fore sight on all this and hence in the outside world there are so many sai samithis or sai centres and there are numerous oppurtunities for family people for serving the under privileged and self spiritual development with or without any money. If they want to serve with money but no time for attending service activities then they could voluntarily fund sai samithis towards the good work! Or if there is no money to be given then they could give their labour or just help around or just take part.
One may argue there are internal poltics at some samithis and sai centres..but as long as humans exist all this would be there in some form or the other! However it is definitely possible not to get involved in any such politics but carry on our sai services and spiritual sadhanas with focus only on swami and his messages . Our swami has provided us with such (facilities through his) wisdom (and) thorugh his wonderful messages. Sorry for the very long post. Jai sai ram.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks sister Taruni Tarun for your valuable view. Jai Sairam!
Clive Raj Valydon wrote:
Very good comment by Taruni Tarun
Shubha Ramesh Kumar wrote:
Brother you are keeping it very real :-). It's no rosy path and one shouldn't expect that Swami will make it magical if one with all the family baggage decides to settle in the ashram. It will be challenging and a lot do readjustment will be required. However I do have tremendous respect for those couples who chose to consciously dedicate their lives at Swami's feet knowing fully well the circumstances and raise their families there. Thanks for keeping it real.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks for your comment, sister Shubha Ramesh Kumar. I agree with you fully on "tremendous respect for those couples who chose to consciously dedicate their lives at Swami's feet knowing fully well the circumstances and raise their families there". I think those PN ashram system employees who raise their children while living in PN system are also Tyagajeevis when viewed from a broader perspective. The unmarried employees who are part of PN system can happily live with the salaries they get and with the privileged services ("staff" services) provided by the ashram system to its employees. Some of these chaps have a free & happy bird look on their faces. May God bless them :-). It is good to have some happy faces who will hopefully spread some of that happiness around. Swami would "hate" to see castor oil (unhappy) faces among his servitors. Swami wanted his servitors to be happy.
It is the married PN ashram employees with kids who will rarely have time to stop and talk on the street. Juggling work, family, other ashram pressure, managing the family expenses with decent salary now after Mahasamadhi, but not high salary as compared to Indian corporate salaries, especially for single income families, etc. is NOT EASY. But surely their children would be a source of great joy to them, which may more than make up for a very busy lifestyle. And these children are, many times, not only a source of joy to the parents, but also to the ashram community including many unmarried employees and devotees.
So it is nice to have a blend of unmarried employees and family employees in PN ashram system, IMHO.
However, higher education expenses for children today in Indian middle class and even lower class families is a major source of parental anxiety, and sometimes even anxiety for the children/young adults themselves as they may themselves get trapped in onerous student loan problems. So parents with young kids wanting to take up jobs in PN ashram system should plan for such eventualities by making appropriate savings over time, unless they are rich people anyway in which case they need not have any worries on this count.
Now Shubha you have said that I am keeping it very real. That's right. But some readers may think I am being too pessimistic. So let me tell you what happened in one case of PN ashram system employee after Mahasamadhi who got into major life problems as he was faced with professional higher education costs for his child(ren).
Note that some of the students that I taught in the Sai university who became SSSCT/PN ashram system employees (I include institutions outside Puttaparthi which are managed by SSSCT) and are friendly with me even now, as well as some junior colleagues in the Sai university who are similarly friendly to me even now, got married after Mahasamadhi and some of them have children now. As I tend to provide advice to some of them in person, and as now I am a social media writer on spirituality & religion, I felt it appropriate to share my views on this topic as this Facebook post and my comments on this post. The comments of others on this post adds significantly to the discussion. All this may be useful for others, especially young married couples considering to be part of not only PN ashram system but any Indian ashram system (including Muddenahalli group ashram system) as its employees, and dedicating their lives to the mission of the ashram system. Therefore I felt it appropriate to share this sad PN ashram system employee case.
This gentleman was a teacher in Swami's school in PN for decades, I believe. Perhaps from the pressure he was facing from meeting higher education costs of his children (including one daughter pursuing medicine/dentistry), sometime after Mahasamadhi, he decided to become aggressive in his dispute over some salary dues that he felt he was owed by the school, over a period of many years which according to his calculations came to a hefty sum. That resulted in hardening of stance from the PN ashram authorities managing the school, leading to his removal from the job, perhaps sometime in 2012 (or maybe it was 2013). Then he got into a legal case with the school where his lawyer seemed to have promised him quick victory!! Sadly for him, the legal case did not progress anywhere close to the speed that he wanted, with the 2014 Andhra Pradesh-Telangana split making it worse. Even today, I don't think his legal case to get his dues as per his calculations has progressed towards a decision in his favour.
Meanwhile this guy's life went through extraordinary trauma. He did not have enough money power to handle his family's expenses once his salary from Swami's school stopped. His wife got sick (perhaps the trauma triggered the sickness) and was admitted to Swami general hospital. Fortunately, she recovered with the treatment given there. I was very happy to see that even though he was fighting with PN ashram school and perhaps had already gone the legal route, his wife was given (free) treatment at Swami's general hospital.
It slowly became known that he had borrowed money from his former school and other ashram colleagues. Some Puttaparthi local guy asked me one day whether I knew this person. When I indicated that I knew him, this local guy sought help from me to recover some money he (the local) had given to him!!! Of course, I did NOT get involved in this money matter but expressed my sympathies to the local who is not a rich guy, runs a small shop (I won't say what kind of shop to hide his identity) and has a wife and young child of his own to cater to. I mean, this local guy has got really hit hard by his loan to this former Swami schoolteacher not being repaid, and which loan he claims to have given out of the respect he had for the schoolteacher and now very much regrets that he gave that loan.
This gentleman (former school teacher) tried various new avenues to earn a living. As he was a Sanskrit teacher he tried to get into paid religious consultant/advisor kind of business. He now seems to have moved to one of the big cities of South India and seems to have settled into an "Astro Yoga" paid spiritual advisor business/living, with an appropriate look including beard to match.
I wish this gentleman all the very best and pray to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba that his financial travails get resolved quickly and that he repays all the loans he has taken from people, and that his children are able to comfortably complete their higher education (including medicine/dentistry).
One of the reasons for me to share these realities of post-Mahasamadhi PN ashram system people's lives is to help youngsters who consider moving to PN ashram system as a full time employee, be aware of ground realities of PN ashram system and so make an INFORMED DECISION with respect to moving to PN ashram system. In particular, I would like my writings to help avoid repeats of the legal case and financial trauma that the former Sai school teacher underwent/is undergoing. Such matters are not good for both the PN ashram system employee concerned AS WELL AS PN ashram system.