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Love and Light

Region 1 - Orientation Conference 2013

Becoming His instruments
Saturday 23rd March 2013

45 Office bearers and active workers from Region1 braved the snow on Saturday 23rd March to gather at the Sai Mandir for the Orientation Conference, where we were supported in our deliberations by 2 members of the UKCC - Brothers Veeru and Kumi.

The scene was set with by Sister Karunes, former National SSE co-ordinator, lighting the lamp and giving a few words of encouragement to all. Our regional chair, brother Yoges, then introduced all Regional coordinators, Centre / Group chairpersons and welcomed all. He also said that it was Bhagawan’s grace that brought us all to the day’s programme - to pray together, learn together and to be inspired together.

We began by listening to Bhagawan’s Divine Discourse given at the 3rd World Conference on 21st November 1980 and a video of the speech Swami gave to accompany the launch of the Organisational
Charter - given by Him over 40 years ago. This reminded us of our high calling as instruments of our Lord and brought home to us the calibre of the organisation in which we are blessed to hold office.

Brother Raj then led a session on the Roles and Responsibilities of Sai centres, which are:
- To serve the devotees,
- To facilitate the spiritual development of all members, including the office bearers,
- As a by-product, to provide service to the wider community

Office bearers carry a heavy responsibility. They must:
- Ensure that everything is functioning properly in order to facilitate spiritual development of members.
- assist with the growth and expansion of the centre, so that it meets the needs of the members
- Ensure that members have adequate opportunities to participate in the activities of the centre.
- To enhance their own spiritual progress through the path of Karma Yoga by rendering selfless service not only to the wider community but also to the members of the centre.

In the process, there is scope for office bearers to practise the three path/forms of yoga - Bhakti, Karma and Jnana and often form a combination. So, in order for a centre to be serving members effectively, all wings must be strong.

He ended his speech with Swami’s quote “You are the instruments in the spread of Vedic science, among the farthest corners of this vast land; you are the chosen ones!” A charming video of an old violin being brought to life “by the Master’s touch” seemed particularly appropriate for theme.

Former Sai student, brother Aanand (Merton Sai Centre Spiritual Co-ordinator) then challenged us further on the reason for organisational guidelines, the spirit of the guidelines and their practice. How are we different from, say Oxfam, who also do good work? Are we a spiritual organisation or a service organisation? We spoke about the universality of the teachings, the absence of fundraising, the spirit of love and also the democratic spirit – leaders there must be and a few rules, but there is no hierarchy in terms of spiritual attainment. Humility rather than officiousness are to be promoted.

The workshops

The assembly broke into 2 groups for workshops on SSE/Spiritual and Youth/Service

The following Centre / Group issues in the Region based on guidelines for each group, were discussed:

Sustenance / Improvement/Growth of centres

1. Improve Centre activities
2. Devotees trends
3. Communication - email etc
4. Health and Safety
5. SSE -awareness to all OBs
6. Groups to see if they can introduce SSE classes
7. Change of office bearers
8. Quarterly reports
9. How can the Region / UK Organisation help - as centres are finding difficulties with rising costs of rent, insurance etc

SSE/Spiritual Workshop

Discussion points (practicalities)
• Promoting newcomers and young parents.
• Raising awareness of the SSE programme.
• Encouraging and supporting already existing SSE in the centre to expand.
• Motivating centres/Group currently without SSE to start classes or a ‘value club’ for youngsters - any new venture related to education.
• Regional support to the centres who need help.
• To bring back former SSE students(Alumni Meeting)

The meeting began with us being told how important it was for all our centre members to support SSE / Balvikas classes and how (as an Officer Bearer) we should have a strong Faith in Swami in order to carry out our task efficiently and with commitment – First Be, then Do and Tell is the maxim here.

We discussed various practical difficulties that the SSE wings faces; one of the key examples was children’s uniform. We then spoke about the children being required to wear white to Balvikas classes and how some parents do not adhere to this. It was suggested that as an incentive we could award a Star to those who are properly dressed and we should also talk to the Parents about how it is a requirement, as laid down by Swami. Another centre SSE teacher said how they have hand down uniforms that they give out to those children who don’t have whites.

The aim was to raise awareness. It was said that Teacher training should be open for all members because, in that way, their interest and awareness would be raised and they may want to become part of the SSE team within the centre. Another way of raising awareness was to start doing in house SSE training for all active members (including parents). An action taken from this is that Sister Vasanthi will be liaising with National SSE co-ordinator to implement this. We were also asked if we could think of ways to improve the teaching of the children. Teacher Training sessions were requested to take place a few times each year, so that all who wanted to could have the opportunity to attend. Sister Vasanthi, Regional SSE co-ordinator, said that teachers often also need a shadow/assistant to help them. So those who have done the basic training could act as an assistant for the first year, before taking on the role of Teacher. The meeting touched on the need to prepare for Balvikas lessons with a 5 minute Sadhana - such as reading from one of Swami’s books or Thought for the day. We can motivate Centres that do not have SSE to start a Values Club or a new venture related to education. We were informed that there are currently a total of 481 students, 57 teachers and 26 assistants in Region1.

We then spoke about Bhajan Practice and it was suggested that 2 children at a time be taken aside and taught a Bhajan. It was also said that more English Bhajans should be sung and how the National Team are compiling a book of 500 English Bhajans. English Bhajans can also be found on the SSE website.
We then spoke about the Vedas and it was said that Brother Anand could come to the centres to teach the SSE children to chant properly. It was also recommended that Study circles should be held for Parents and other members to encourage the study of Swami’s teachings.

Brother Sabesan then talked about CRB checks and told us that it is now called DBS checks and how it is more detailed.

The workshop closed with 3 AUMs.

Youth/Service workshop

We started with some stirring words from Swami on the power of youth - that they can achieve anything and emancipate the world, which was further emphasised by clips from the National Youth Conference showing speakers Sunder Iyer (a former personal attendant of Swami) and Sharon Sandweiss, a recent visitor to Region 1.

We were reminded of the objectives from the conference – the emphasis on youth-led activities, the pilgrimage in July with its seva component, the Serve the Planet day in October (more details to follow but ideas welcome), regular YAP meetings, liaison with former SSE students and possibly a regional youth satsang. There was a dynamic exchange of views and many ideas – youth must be given responsibility from a very early age e.g. singing, leading discussions etc. The music and IT matters are very attractive to youth and they are also action-orientated. This must be channelled appropriately. Brother Kumi spoke about his involvement in a medical awareness programme in the United Kingdom.

Health awareness days – they are in touch with groups such as the British Heart Foundation and the Primary care Trust to discuss how to best make use of these days.

Blood donations - for which much work has been done by the Merton Sai Centre. Lots of support and help was needed for this project. Brother Lavan suggested that all the centres need to make all their regular members aware about blood donation sessions well in advance, as they have to be made aware of things that might prevent them from being able to give blood.

International work - the rota for the hospitals in Brindavan and Prasanthi Nilayam and the service camps.

Global Sevice Day - centres or groups are generally involved in a number of service activities. The service is to be conducted on the 2nd weekend of July and is on a “Global Scale”.

It was also mentioned that local councils welcome volunteers for various types of work, particularly environmental work.

Finally, after a wonderful lunch, we listened to an extract of the video from Dr Narendranath Reddy (Chair of Prashanthi Council) as already enjoyed by those who attended the UK National conference. Brother Veeru of the UKCC then gave a stirring summary of the day, reminding us of the need for steadfast faith and commitment, and a deep identification with the suffering of others. Most of us lead a very narrow existence, he said. He left us with the image of a pot of Amrit (nectar), placed in the heart and constantly overflowing. We should also have the courage to talk about our experiences.

The programme concluded with two bhajans, followed by arathi thus bringing an end to an uplifting day. Hopefully we all took something away to work on in the coming year.

By sisters Maureen (Wandsworth Group) and
Sandra (Bromley Centre)