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The Gurukula Experience

Article Submitted By: VinayaChaitanya
Date: Wed, 3 Aug 2011 Time: 6:47 AM

It is not easy to write about the Gurukula experience, it is like trying to describe a river - you can describe the banks, the rocks, the falls, but the river, it, flows on, ever the same, ever different.  So, in order to convey the experience, one has to talk about the experiencer. Or, should we call it 'imperience'?
The "Gurukula experience", in its essence, has been known from the earliest days of human aspiration.   The silent, youthful teacher seated under a banyan tree, surrounded by students who are old, is an idiom which is still very alive in Eastern cultural traditions.   The old disciples represent the age-old questions of humanity while the silent youth stands for the newness of the answers when they arise as well as the nature of the teaching, which transcends words.
Such communities where learning and living went hand in hand were also known from the time of Pythagoras and later through the academies of Plato and Aristotle in the west.   We are saying all this to clear the common mis-understanding that 'Gurus' are a species found only in India.  Gurus, as representatives and exemplars of the perennial wisdom of life have always lived in every time and clime, even as they do now.
Wisdom refers to our finalised knowledge, thoughts and feelings understood in living and dynamic terms.   Thus it is also the common sense of peoples.   Jesus when he says. "You have heard it said….. but verily I say unto you……." clearly portrays how a Guru revalues and restates perennial wisdom to answer the need of his/her time.
The wisdom heritage of humanity has always been upheld by Gurus - World Teachers - since their lives and teachings are constantly reaffirming universal core values of life, such as love and kindness, equality and justice, in their particular expressions in the daily life of people.  These Gurus of humanity should not be confused with religious dignitaries or pontiffs of closed institutions - however large they are.   Most of these Gurus, in their own ways, were vehemently critical of the fossilised institutions of their times (e.g., Jesus in the temple with the whip) Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Gautama Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed are some of the name of such illustrious teachers we have had. (It is indeed a great pity that we have lost the names and traditions of the numerous women teachers, even though it is mostly through the grandmothers that human wisdom has been preserved.)
Narayana Guru, (1854-1928) who inspired the founding of the Gurukula was a wisdom teacher belonging to such a line of Gurus.   He emphasised the need to transcend parochialisms of all kinds - whether in the name of caste or race, language, sex or faith.   This was not to be reached through any homogenisation, but through recognising the underlying unity of human aspiration.   His teachings could be summarised in the dictum "Humanity is of one Caste, one faith and one Goal".
His disciple - successor, Nataraja Guru, founded the Narayana Gurukula Foundation, as an educational institute where the ideals of self-realisation as well as world-citizenship can be actualised through an open and dynamic way of plain living and high thinking. While considering all religious / spiritual traditions as the common heritage of all humanity, it also keeps neutral between belief and scepticism, as well as between all such bipolarities.   Such a way of seeing "both together" instead of "either / or " is known as yoga in India.   Yoga means union- like the union of the wave with the ocean.   Nataraja Guru saw the Gurukulas as "islands of neutrality in an ocean of insanity".   He also called it " Narayana Gurukula Unlimited", meaning the liability of each to all and all to each is unlimited.   He saw the whole world as a Gurukula.
This is a general background of the Gurukula.
The place in Bangalore where we live is one of the many centres of the Gurukula.  (There are 16 others in India and a few in other parts of the world).
Margaret & I have been living here for the last 27 years.   We met in the Gurukula as Nataraja Guru's students and were married 25 years ago.   We have 4 children aged between 24 and 12-Three girls and a boy.   The eldest, Hypatia Anasuya has just qualified as an Ayurvedic doctor.   The other 3 are in school and colleges.   They stand for a new generation of children whose caste and religion is humanity.
Some incidents may be cited which may help understand the role of the Gurukula today:
Last year a young man and woman came to us.   They were from Kerala - the man a Muslim, the woman a Christian.   Both were from educated, wealthy upper middle class families, and very much in love with each other.   Both the families were totally against them having anything to do with each other.   The young couple had waited for a number of years, hoping the families would come to accept their relationship.   Not only did that not happen, the woman was locked up in her own house and frantic efforts were on to get her married off to someone, anyone, as long as he was a Christian.  The man's family, not to be outdone, was threatening to murder him if he did not give her up.   Somehow they managed to run away together and reached Bangalore where they had a few friends.   They went to many churches, mosques and temples, wanting to get married.   They wanted a religious ceremony, but nobody would get them married unless one or both of them were converted to a particular religion.   They did not want this; neither were they willing to make do with a registered (civil) marriage.   Finally, some friends brought them to us.   After talking to them, we agreed to get them married.   We had a ceremony where prayers from the Koran, the Bible and the Vedas were recited by all.   We gave them a certificate as well, recognising their love and devotion to each other.  They are now living in their own hometown, the families slowly becoming open to them.
Nearer home, in a village 4 kms away from us, there is a young mother and father with 2 sons.   The father is an "untouchable" while the mother is "high caste".   We are very thrilled at such efforts, however minuscule they may be, that show us that we need not give up hope, that it is possible to transform lives of individuals while we wait for 'total' or 'global' revolutions to change the human-being for the better.
Some time ago, we received a letter from a young Japanese man, thanking us for all the help.   Apparently, when he came here, a year ago, he was at a very low point emotionally, spiritually and physically, and was contemplating suicide, but having lived at the Gurukula for a week he found some purpose in his own life.  He felt his life was too caught up with himself - he is now exploring th possibility of creating a similar space in Japan.
I also remember receiving a postcard from someone who had visited us 12 years before.   The card had only one line written on it. "The seed has sprouted", which reminds me of the sower of seeds in the parable of Jesus.
These are a few examples cited in the hope that they will reflect some aspects of the Gurukula.   But they remain incomplete, as the whole way of life, in each of its moments, days, is unique and different, may be the only constant is the intensity of purpose to fulfil each moment.   We are also involved in organic / natural farming, reforestation efforts as part of the spiritual discipline we try to live.   Agriculture, thus practised is an easy way of gaining insight into how all life is interdependent, and grows together.
The numerous friends, who visit the Gurukula, from all the different parts of the world, keep in touch regularly, and are a constant source of renewal and hope.
The Gurukula is also in close contact with some 20 villages around.   We are invited for weddings and other community events and often are able to raise some questions at least about their age-old sustainable ways that are being mercilessly eroded by the all-pervasive consumerist 'development' models.
We also seek to revitalise liberative elements in the spiritual traditions of the people and are involved in translating into and from Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit and English, different indigenous poetic expressions.   A translation of 200 poems of the 12th century Kannada poetess, Akka Mahadevi, is ready for publication.
In the word Gurukula,  kula means family.   So the Gurukula is a wisdom family.   It excludes no one, no thing.   Right now, the core family here consists of 7 humans, 11 cats, 3 cows, 1 dog, and numerous trees, lots of butterflies, lots of birds, snakes, mongooses and jackals.   Talking of birds, I am reminded of the beginning of a poem of wisdom, 2500 years old.   The student asks the teacher, "Is it through contemplation or through action that one attains liberation?"  The Guru answers, "Verily, my dear, just as a bird soars up to the heavens on both its wings, it is through contemplation and action together that one attains liberation".

About the Author

"to love is to live."- Narayana Guru.

Vinaya Chaitanya became a disciple of Nataraja Guru at an early age, finding with him a way to live & understand himself. He later married within the Gurukula & was asked by Nataraja Guru to adminster the Narayana Gurukula Institute of Aesthetic Values near Bangalore in Karnataka State.

There he lived for several decades, raising children & running the Ashram together with his lady wife.

He is now travelling & researching & can be contacted on Facebook.

(this is a very old article, and much has changed, naturally, on the external circumstances described, e.g. Gurukula is now surrounded by high rise buildings & the old road has become a national highway.

But trees and birds have also been growing. And peace pervades, when memory is not weighed down by regret; but becomes transparent ... and expansive; retro and prospective neutralize, cancelling each other in to the 'eternal moment'.)

Vinaya Chaitanya -  added on 03-08-2011.

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Submitted: Wed, 3 Aug 2011 Time: 6:47 AM