A Student's Perspective of the Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education - By Dr. Shashank Shah

Dr. Shashank Shah with Sri Sathya Sai at Kodaikanal (2005)

It was in March 2003 that the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) Peer Team of the University Grants Commission (UGC) conferred the ‘A++’ ranking on the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning – the highest ranking given to any University in this country. In their observations they stated, “The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning is the crest jewel of the University education system in the country. The model of education followed in this University is worthy of emulation by institutions of higher learning in this country and elsewhere.”

What makes the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning the crest jewel of the University education system in the country? Is it the system of education followed here? Is it the state of the art infrastructure facilities – a planetarium, a fully equipped IT and Artificial Intelligence Lab, a world class-Olympic standard indoor stadium, a world class cricket stadium…? Is it its rural ambience? What is it that really makes it unique? In my opinion, it is all this put together. But above all, it is the Divine Love of the Revered Chancellor of this University – Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for His students that makes all the difference and makes the University what it truly stands for.

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (Deemed to be University), 
Prasanthi Nilayam

To trace the history of this unique University, let me take you back to the year 1951. It was on the occasion of the inauguration of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Higher Secondary School at Bukkapatnam, that Swami nominated Prof. Kasturi to be His representative. In the invitation card, Prof. Kasturi’s qualifications were stated as PhD. The fact was that Prof. Kasturi had not done his PhD. So, Mr. Vitthal Rao (an ardent devotee of Bhagavan and father of Prof. Jayalakshmi Gopinath, Warden, Anantapur Campus Hostel) remarked, “Swami, from which University has Prof. Kasturi done his PhD?” With a twinkle in His eyes, Swami replied, “From the Puttaparthi University!” Peels of laughter followed. But the concrete manifestation of the Divine ‘Vajrasankalpa’ was seen by the same Prof. Kasturi thirty years later, when in front of his very own eyes, Swami inaugurated the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning – a Deemed University on November 22, 1981 at Prashanti Nilayam.

Revered Founder Chancellor, Sri Sathya Sai
This University was to be unique in many ways as an effective instrument in the unfolding of the Divine Mission. Bhagavan in one of the very first discourses addressed to the students stated the uniqueness of the University and the role it was to play in the years ahead. Here I quote Bhagavan’s own words –

This University has not been established just to prepare you for earning degrees. The main purpose is to help you to cultivate Self-knowledge and Self-confidence so that you all may learn self-sacrifice and earn Self-realisation. Teaching the University curricula, preparing you for the examinations and awarding university degrees are only the means employed for the end, namely spiritual upliftment, self-discovery and social-service through love and detachment. Our hope is that by your lives you will be shining examples of spiritual awareness and its beneficial consequences to the individual and society. This will not be like all other Universities which adopt a few faculties and burden their alumni with degrees, which they can present as begging bowls while clamouring for jobs. This University will confer on its alumni the courage and confidence, the knowledge and skill, to shape their careers by their own efforts, standing on their legs and relying on their strength. So we have proposed that spiritual education be integrated harmoniously with the teaching of ethical, physical and metaphysical subjects in this University.”

Thus, out of Bhagavan’s direct guidance and involvement emerged the Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education (SSSSIE). But what does this SSSSIE do? To put it simply, the SSSSIE aims at the integrated and holistic personality development of students in the physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual domains. Bhagavan has defined a balanced personality as an individual possessing the Head of Shankara (symbolising wisdom), the Heart of Buddha (symbolising compassion) and the Hands of Janaka Maharaja (symbolising selfless service). An attempt is made through this system to mould such ideal and balanced individuals.
An Ideal Sai Student as defined by Sri Sathya Sai

Bhagavan says, “In this University, the medium of instruction is Discipline. Love, Service and Sadhana are the first, second and third languages.” He always exhorts the students to pay more attention to duties and responsibilities. He says, “An educated citizen has more duties to discharge than privileges to enjoy. An educated citizen has more responsibilities to fulfill than rights to demand.”

While other universities teach the which, where, what, when and how of life, this University, along with all these also teaches the why of life – the purpose of life. Though man is on a temporary sojourn on this planet of dust, he has a definite role to play by setting an ideal through his own example, just as the Lord had exhorted Arjuna to, and shown him the path of Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita.

The scriptures declare:
“Aahar Nidra Bhaya Maithunaadi, Samnyametat Pashubhir Naranaam;

Jnanam Naranaam, Adhikam Visheshaha, Jnanena Shunya, Pashubhi Samanah”

(Food, sleep, fear and procreation are common to man and animal. It is only the discriminative knowledge, the wisdom, which man has been endowed with that distinguishes him from the rest of the creation.) It is this discriminative knowledge – wisdom, which is sought to be imparted in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

The life of a Sai student revolves around HIM. 'Him' of course means the Revered Chancellor – our Beloved Bhagavan. But it also means – Hostel Institute and Mandir. The secular values-based education received in the Institute, coupled with the spiritual inputs received at the Mandir, is put into actual practice in the Hostel through experiential learning. Let me elaborate on each of these.

Sri Sathya Sai Hostel for Senior Students, Prasanthi Nilayam

The students describe the Sri Sathya Sai Hostel as ‘A home where each lives for the other and all live for God.’ The Pan Indian character of the University comes alive in the Hostel where students from all backgrounds, castes, regions, religions and social strata, live together in harmony. Unlike other places where the hostel is more like a hotel, meant only for sleeping, eating and having a nice time, the Sri Sathya Sai Hostel is unique. It aims at providing ample opportunities to the students to blossom forth their latent talents, capabilities and creativity.

The energy and enthusiasm of the students is channelised in the right direction in the Hostel. All the students are expected to follow the pre-determined rigorous schedule of the Hostel all through the year. One of the other major instruments used for the students’ personality and skills development is the self-reliance departments. These are departments run by the students themselves. All aspects of the Hostel’s functioning are taken care through these which include activities such as plumbing and electrification, gardening, general stores, cooking, computer and other multimedia facilities, library, books and publications, dispensary and so on. The Hostel becomes a self-sufficient unit through these departments which are run by the students themselves. The senior students take the lead in running these departments and the juniors are trained under the guidance of these seniors so that when the seniors pass out of the University, these juniors can take over. Thus the essential philosophy of the ‘Gurukula’ System of education is retained and those values imbibed. Through this, the dignity of labour is appreciated and it also provides the students an opportunity to contribute to the institution through the best use of the talents which he or she is endowed with.

Prasanthi Nilayam Campus

Before I mention about the uniqueness of the Institute, I would like to share an anecdote or rather a real life story. This happened in the USA, where the professors of a world renowned premier business school got together to find ways and means to stem the moral crisis facing the corporate world. In the last decade or so, the corporate world has seen a number of debacles, the origin of which could be ascribed to moral turpitude and erosion of value systems in the corporate organisations. Two of the three CEOs of the companies which had faltered the rule of the law and indulged in unethical and illegal practices were alumni of this premier B school. So the esteemed group of faculty members came up with a brilliant idea. They increased the credits of the Business Ethics course which was taught as a special paper in their B school from two credits to three credits! As if an increase in one more hour of Business Ethics class per week alone was going to make the students wiser! This is the magnitude of short-sightedness prevalent in the world today. What is required today is not a part by part and short-term solution, but a long term synergistic and holistic solution to the problems facing the world.

At the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, ethics and values form the undercurrent of all the subjects taught. It is not a separate subject, but a part of everything done here. It was in this University that I learnt that the management concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) is actually TKS – ‘Trikaranashuddhi’ (unity and purity of thought, word and deed) as Bhagavan calls it. For it is only when the intention, the word and the actions of the management are in unity, that they will actually be able to deliver quality goods and services to their customers.

It was here that I learnt the ‘Mahavakya’ of Leadership as given by Bhagavan Himself, which says, “To Be, To Do, To See, To Tell.” A good leader must first put into practice what he wants others to practice, by setting an ideal example himself. It is only then that he/she has the moral right to tell others. Bhagavan is Himself an ideal example in this regard. He often says, “A good ‘Nayak’ (Leader) should first be a good ‘Sevak’ (Servant).”

It was in this University that I learnt that Business Administration is or rather should be Man Management for Bhagavan says, “Men are more valuable than all the wealth of the world and it is they who actually give value to the other 5 M’s of Business – Money, Materials, Machines, Minutes and Methods.” In fact, a compilation of Bhagavan’s Discourses to His Management students is entitled by Him as Man Management!

It is in this hallowed institution that I learnt that there is nothing in life which can be considered as not being spiritual. Everything is spiritual. One must ‘spiritualise’ every moment of one’s life. A small experience elucidates this. A faculty member of the Faculty of Business Management of the University wanted to quit his job and pursue a quiet and spiritually-intense life in solitude. So he decided to put in his papers. A few days later, Swami called all the faculty members of the University for an interview. During the interview, He looked at this faculty member and said, “I know you want to quit the job and pursue a life in solitude. What is it that you will gain ultimately? Self-realisation. It is only I, who will bestow that on you. But, if you distinguish between worldly life and spiritual life, then even in one thousand births, I will not give you what you want. Don’t distinguish some things as spiritual and other things as worldly. Everything is spiritual. Do your duty of teaching the students with utmost sincerity and devotion and you will definitely reach your goal through this path as well. Where else will you get such a sacrosanct environment where the students want to learn good things in life and you have the opportunity to teach them the highest facets of life. Teach them the message of Sai along with the secular education and sanctify your life.”

It was Swami Vivekananda who once gave the advice to a young man, who was not able to concentrate and progress in his spiritual journey. He asked, “Swamiji, my first Guru told me to concentrate on the form of my favourite deity and the second Guru told me to make my mind blank and concentrate on the formless aspect of God. Now I am not able to concentrate on either in my prayer room. What should I do?” Swami Vivekananda replied, “The first thing you should do is to open the doors of your prayer room and to step out and see. You will find outside, the poor, the distressed, the afflicted and the diseased brethren of yours, suffering. Serve them and through them you will be serving the Lord Himself. That is the way to fulfillment my dear boy and that is what is expected of you at this young age.”

Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir

The Mandir is the place where the silent transformation takes place; where values are truly imbibed and where individuals are unmade and remade. Bhagavan’s love for His students is unparalleled and His concern for their welfare is also extraordinary. He does not leave any opportunity to communicate to them the subtle truths of life – whether directly or indirectly, whether in words or through silence, whether through lot of individual attention or through ignorance of their presence. Here I would like to share two very touching experiences.

There was a student studying in Bhagavan’s University and he was very mischievous. On one occasion, Swami blessed the student and his parents with an interview. In the interview, Swami praised the boy before his parents as an extraordinary student, very disciplined, very intelligent and so on.

The boy helplessly looked at Swami, for only He knew the truth. The next day in the Darshan lines, he asked Swami, “Swami, why did you tell my parents all those things when You know that it is not true.” Pat came the reply from Bhagavan, “My dear boy, I did not tell them what you are. I told them, what I want you to be, what you are really capable of!” What a revelation! The boy was so touched by this that life was never again the same for him. Through this Bhagavan gave us, the student community an important message – whenever He praises us, it is not necessarily that we actually possess those exalted virtues in totality. He only sets an ideal which He wants each one of us to work towards and achieve.

Sri Sathya Sai with Students in Trayee Brindavan

The other real life experience is also of an indisciplined boy who was quite unlike what was expected of a Sai student. The Warden’s attempts to do the needful also did not achieve much result. One fine day, in a Trayee session (Bhagavan’s residence in Brindavan, Whitefield, Bangalore), Swami casually mentioned to the boy, “If at all you knew what you were in your previous birth, then you wouldn’t behave the way you are doing now.” This made the boy very intrigued and he desperately wanted to know what he was in his previous birth. He pleaded with the Warden to ask Swami on his behalf but the Warden suggested that he could do that himself. So, the next day morning, he prayed to Swami during Darshan to tell him what he was in his previous life. Swami said, “Shall I tell you? In your previous life, you were a sage, undertaking great ‘Sadhana’ in the solitude of the mountains with the single pointed aim of attaining Me. It is because of that effort and yearning of yours, that you have earned Me now. But when this rare opportunity has come your way, you are frittering it away by your wayward ways. Don’t waste time. Make the most of this opportunity.” Needless to say the boy got transformed totally for the good. It is in this way that Bhagavan has transformed innumerable lives forever. A student enters the portals of this Institution as rough diamond and leaves the portals of this Institution as a shining jewel worthy of being offered to the Divine

Besides these three components – Hostel, Institute and Mandir, there are certain other aspects of the University which have a lot of impact on the students’ perspective to life. These are the Grama Seva, the Convocation dramas, cultural activities and the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet. I would like to briefly state how each of these impacts the students psyche and makes them better and fuller individuals.


This is an annual exercise undertaken during the ‘Navratri’ celebrations when the students of the University go to the nearby villages and distribute Bhagavan’s Prasadam in the form of food and clothes to them. Nearly 150 villages in the Sri Sathya Sai Taluka are covered during this period.

Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva

This exercise plays a major role in sensitising the students of the realities of rural India. For students like me, who have come from metropolitan cities and who have no exposure to rural life, it is a real eye opener. We learn what it means to have two meals a day, we learn the joy of getting new clothes, we learn the satisfaction of smiling and being smiled at, we learn and experience what it means to love and be loved.

The Grama Seva is also an exercise is management and communication which gives the students actual hands on experience. The message of Sai ever rings in the ears of the students when they embark upon this exercise, “When you offer milk to a hungry child, or a blanket to a shivering brother on the pavement, you are but placing a gift of God into hands of God! God serves; He allows you to claim that you have served! Without His Will, not a single blade of grass can quiver in the breeze. Fill every moment with gratitude to the Giver and the Recipient of all gifts.” It is He who is the doer, it is He who is the recipient, it He Himself who is the act of service.

Sri Sathya Sai with Students after the Convocation Drama in the 
Poornachandra Auditorium (2002)

The Convocation Drama is staged by the students of the University on the occasion of the University Convocation which is 22nd of November every year. While this drama is an annual event, there are many other cultural activities – music, dance, skits, public speaking and many others which the students get to present before Swami on a number of occasions including the major festivals celebrated at Prashanti Nilayam. Bhagavan’s involvement in guiding the students and honing their skills so that the best in them emerges is seen on such occasions. Swami is a perfectionist and nothing short of perfection will do for Him, be it acting, dialogue delivery, costumes, make up, songs, dance or anything else. He drives home the message through this exercise which Lord Krishna had given Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, ‘Yogaha Karmasu Koushalam’ – True Yoga is Perfection in Action. True spirituality is the attainment of human excellence in all spheres of life.


Annual Sports and Cultural Meet

This is an event held on the 11th of January every year in the Hill View Stadium at Prashanti Nilayam and where all the students of the three campuses of the University participate. All sorts of cultural, athletic, and dare devilry stunt items on motor bikes and four wheeler including aero-sports are presented by students on this occasion. Once again, it is an exercise of perfection in action. It is also another occasion when the cooperative effort overpowers the competitive spirit. In a world full of fierce competition, the Annual Sports Meet bears testimony to the power of cooperation and unity to achieve success and excellence. During these events, the best in the students emerges in myriad forms, not for their personal glory, but for the Divine satisfaction – for making their most beloved Mother Sai happy with their efforts. That is all they seek for their efforts and hard work. It is a true example of ‘Pavitra Karma’ wherein all actions are done not only selflessly without any expectation of any reward, but are also dedicated to God as an offering unto Him.


What is the actual output and the end result of all these integrated inputs the system gives to the students? After all these inputs and various means of training and transformation, the end product of the Sai education system is to mould students who have their hands in society and their heads in the forest. To have individuals who are ‘Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’ (symbolising detachment and devotion) within and effective CEOs (symbolising technical and professional competence) without.

Shashank Shah receiving gold medal from Sri Sathya Sai in the presence of President of India - Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at SSSIHL's 25th Convocation (2006)

I feel there are two main outputs of the entire system – Self-confidence and conviction. Self-confidence means not only confidence in ourselves, our abilities and talents, but also confidence in the Higher Self which is God and His grace and the knowledge that it is He who is the real doer and we are the mere instruments.

Conviction springs forth from experience. This is developed in the students during their stay here. Their conviction in the power of character and value systems and its practice in daily life, stands in good stead all their life.

I would like to share two experiences here, one each highlighting these aspects.

Firstly, let me detail about self-confidence. There was a student of the University, who finished his education and moved on for a job. He was from a poor family and did not have much financial support from home all through his childhood days. At the interview he was asked many things about himself, his background, his education and so on. Finally, this student was asked, “You have studied in Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s University. We have heard that Sathya Sai Baba gives rings and chains to His devotees. What have you received from Him?” Intuitively, the boy answered with great confidence, “Dear sirs. I come from a poor family background where majority of the members of my family are not even sufficiently literate. The knowledge of English language is not something I have received from my ancestors. To receive post graduate education is unthinkable in the circumstances I have grown in. If today, I am able to face this elite panel of experts and communicate effectively with all of you about my background, qualifications and goals of life without hesitation and full of conviction, it is because of the Self-confidence that I have. This Self-confidence is Sathya Sai Baba’s greatest gift to me.” The panel was overwhelmed with his response as it communicated the greatest gift that Swami has been giving to all His students and devotees.

Conviction springs forth from deep sense of clarity of purpose which emerges from one’s experience. There was a Muslim student who was studying in Swami’s University for the MBA programme (2005-2007). During the month of Ramzan, he was visiting the mosque in Puttaparthi to offer his prayers every morning and evening. For a few days, he felt that Swami was telling him from within, “Be ready!” One fine day, when he went to the mosque, there was a group of Kashmiri Muslims who were present there offering their prayers. They were not devotees of Swami but passers by. They came to know that this boy, whose name was Ramzan Ali, was a student in Swami’s University. So all of them gathered around him and started enquiring about the University and the system of education here. One of the questions these people asked him, “You are a Muslim and you are studying in a place which is not Islamic. You are studying in ‘Khufristan’ – meaning a religion or a society which prophesizes polytheism or worship of many Gods. How can you reconcile your religion with your way of life in this place?” The boy had been here for nearly two years. Based on what he had learnt here, his understanding and of course the inner prompting of Swami he answered, “Sirs, the polytheistic nature of this place is only symbolic. The ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is just like the religion of Islam which believes in the formless and Omnipresent aspect of the Lord. There is no difference at all except in the functionalities of the religion. If I have seen the true practice of Islam in its real essence in any place so far in my life, it is in this place where God is truly considered to be Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent.” The outsiders were touched by the conviction of this boy and the new insight that he had given them about the basic oneness of all religions, ignorant of which, today all fights are going on all across the globe. It is indeed rare to find such clarity in young minds! This has been possible only because of Swami’s grace and the system of education that He has developed.

SSSIHL Silver Jubilee Commemorative Building, Prasanthi Nilayam

To sum it up, I would like to share with you all about the Silver Jubilee Commemorative Building of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning because I was associated with its conceptualisation and execution. This Building was inaugurated by the then President of India – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Convocation of the University held on November 22, 2006 at the Sri Sathya Sai International Centre for Sports, Prashanti Nilayam. The Commemorative Building gives a brief insight into the unfolding of the Educational Mission of Bhagavan and also about the salient features of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning and the Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education. Given below is the basic theme of the Commemorative Building Exhibition which sums up all that I have made an attempt to state.

"The education system is like a garden in which the seed of the soul is nurtured. For the proper development of the seed, several conditions need to be present in the correct measure. It is the role of the Education System (‘Garden’) to provide this.

The Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education provides the ambience of such a ‘Garden’. Bhagavan, the Divine Chancellor of this hallowed University is the Gardener who relentlessly pursues His task of tending to the seeds He has sown.

Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education is like the Soil in which the seed is sown. Bhagavan’s interactions with the students are like Water; the life-giving and life sustaining ingredient which flows through every cell of the tree. The Nutrition is the Knowledge the students receive at the Institute.

The Fence around the sapling is the Hostel and its disciplined life, which gives the necessary protective environment for the proper development of the sapling. The implements such as the Sickle and Spade are the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet, Grama Seva and several other organised programs which give proper direction to its development. The Fully Grown Tree with its sweet fruits, its shade, its strength and its deep roots are the Alumni of the Institute."

I would like to end by stating that the seeds sown by the Revered Chancellor over three decades ago are now bearing sweet fruits and giving shade and solace wherever they are planted.

- Dr. Shashank Shah
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of Management Studies
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prasanthi Nilayam


  1. excellent article and this proves the quality of Swami's real properties.

  2. Thank you, Shashank. One of the best articles I have read on the integral system of education at Sathya Sai University. Sai students are few of the luckiest people on earth.

  3. It's very nice to read this article Shashank brother.. Proud to be a student of Sri Sathya Sai University of Higher Learning. Will continue to be the same.

  4. Very well written. One should experience the curriculum of Integral Education System. Proud to be Swami's student. Will continue to be the same...

  5. Inspiring and motivating. Many Higher Education institutions are diviating from set goals. May UGC pick these processes for replication. Thanks Dr,Shah

  6. Beautiful Brother Sai Chandana and Brother Shashank! Many thanks for sharing so many nice information. Truly the indweller, our Beloved Sai, is the Confidence in each of us. Love, Ananth

  7. Awesome ......Thanks for sharing.....

    Deepak Bharwani

  8. Sairam..... Excellent presentation...very much impressed. Pl let me know u r present position.

  9. Dear Mr. Ramanababu,

    Thanks for your message. Dr. Shashank Shah's current designation is stated at the end of the article. He can be contacted at shashankshahjs@sssihl.edu.in


  10. A true swami's student is visualized while going through the fine thoughts expressed here.Thanks for sharing this and reminding the duties of a sai student.Sairam.

  11. Thanks a lot for sharing such an inspiring article.

  12. Dear Sai Brother

    Sairam, pranams to our beloved bhagavan this is one of the best article which I have read in context with swami's educational system. All the best to you. Sairam. K. Sriram



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