Monday, September 20, 2010

Yours, Mine, Ours

This story doesn't belong to me but I'm going to tell it anyway.

About thirty-three years ago, my teacher Douglas Brooks was living in South India pursuing studies with his own teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, who shall henceforth be referred to as Appa. 

I never had the opportunity to meet Appa; we lost him far too early.  I have, however, over the course of roughly ten years, kept Douglas up too late on many an occasion, after a long day teaching, like a child begging for a favorite bedtime story.  Tell me, again, about Appa?  Please?  

You see, the current of our tradition flows through him and so in some ways Appa is mine, too.  Sometimes I almost forget that we never met in person. 

What you read here isn't meant to be read like a biography.  Forgive the broad strokes I paint with.  It's the essence of the story that I'm after and it goes something like this:

Appa's niece was attending a nearby school.  Now, in India access to education is imperative.  Life without it would look pretty dire to most of us. Appa was a great man, a powerful man, a gentle man, a generous man and a man who valued education.  That's why, when that local school did not obtain the accreditation it had promised to, and his niece's ability to attend college was hanging in the balance and her future along with it, he took matters into his own hands.  

With his family fortune, Appa purchased the school in order to save it.  His wife, Amma, sold the gold bangles right off her arms.  "They disappeared into the place," Douglas tells it.  Under the wire, the nearly impossible was accomplished.  The school was granted accreditation status and its students, all of them, not just Appa's niece, were given not only an education and an opportunity to continue on to college, but also a classical Sanskrit education, which was almost unheard of by that time.  

Appa named his school Srividyalayam after the wisdom that is auspicious.  

Later, in 1984, Douglas won the Fulbright and with that money they built the buildings that currently stand.  

Many children who couldn't have otherwise afforded it had their tuition payed by Appa and Douglas.  Not only were these children saved and given a real chance at a real future, they were given lunch, too, which may have been even more important to some of them just then.  It's hard to focus on multiplication tables with an empty belly.  I hope that's something you've never had to worry about.

According to Douglas:
"the original school was two buildings, one a thatched roof divided into little sections for the classrooms but no real dividers, just open.  Children, as I recall, did all their work out of these two outbuildings." 
Today the school stands at a modern two storeys. I know because I have been there.  I have seen, for myself, the late afternoon South Indian sun spill over the little desks in the classrooms; I have breathed in the scent of that chalk dust.  Somewhere, in one of my countless journals, pressed between the pages, are tulsi leaves from the tree in Srividyalayam's schoolyard.  If you ever travel to India with Douglas and company you can see it for yourself.  

The current of our tradition, which has flown through Appa, and flows through Douglas and now continues to flow through me and you, is one that honors and values education.  To be a yogin is to enter into the conversation of the education and evolution of consciousness. 

We think it matters.

In keeping with that tradition, Srividyalaya is the endeavor to provide an education in yoga history, culture, philosophy and practice to those who seek it.  We are the namesake of that original school, Srividyalayam (which is the Tamil spelling.)  It's an honor to be a part of that tradition.  The plan is to give lots of proceeds back to the original school, and continue to pay tuition for children who wouldn't otherwise have the chance to receive an education.

(In addition to that Fulbright money all those years ago, I happen to know for a fact that Srividyalayam has already received more recent and generous donations, both from and through Douglas.  As he reads this, he's probably cringing and regretting telling me that I can write whatever I want here.  Let's all hope I don't go mad with power.)

I like to joke around and to kid myself that I've got people fooled into thinking I'm cooler than I actually am but the truth is that my heart swells with the geeky, goony pride of belonging to this tradition.

It's incredibly meaningful to me. We are a tradition that keeps and honors the commitment to an auspicious wisdom, whether in a thatch roofed schoolhouse in South India, or whether via online course in your very own living room.  We are a tradition that chooses to raise the bar on education.  

This tradition belongs to the past, to the future and to the present.  It belongs to Appa and to Douglas, and now it belongs to us, too.

It's yours, if you want it, and it's mine.

It is ours.  


  1. Thank you for sharing - literally. I have little idea of what others do unless they tell me their story. Very inspiring. And -- love the blog.

  2. These blogs make me swoon, literally. So as I'm sure you already know, your not alone in the geeky, goony deep end of the pool : )

  3. please go mad with power, bernie. i can just imagine the spectacular forms you might take. oh, and this brought tears to my eyes. xos

  4. I am also floating in the geeky, goony pool. Looking out through the reeds so to speak...