By Surekha Sule
A stone’s throw away from Bangalore, the School of Ancient Wisdom, with its landscaped gardens, colonial ambience and holistic workshops, is the perfect setting in which to unwind from the rigours of urban life and reconnect with your soul
When you travel on the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway, about 4 km before Devanahalli village, a dusty diversion greets you on your left side. One kilometre into this narrow road you come across a magnificent tall green iron gate, hardly offering any clues about the mysteries inside. As you enter the stone path, you are captivated by the greenery that seems to welcome you as it dances in the wind.
Further ahead, on the right you may occasionally get a glimpse of tiled roofs of cottages peeping from under the thick foliage of creepers. On the same path, beyond the neatly trimmed bushes, there are landscaped clusters of different plants, flower-beds, ethnic artefacts, flat stone pots with blooming lotus flowers, a beautifully carved wrought iron canopy with matching wrought iron round table and a few chairs. Metal chimes in each of the canopies sway in the soft breeze producing sweet, soothing musical symphony. While you inhale and exhale in this salubrious atmosphere, nature’s beauty and bounty enchant you and your body pulsates with ecstasy. You suddenly feel one with nature and happy as a child. A unique feeling of peace, hitherto unknown, pervades you.
These sentiments are shared by both the first timer and the frequent visitor to The School of Ancient Wisdom. This beautifully landscaped and designed retreat house mirrors the inner quest of its founder Manize Sait. Born in a Parsi family and an industrial designer by profession, Manize lived in Singapore and was active in the Theosophical Society there.
“In December 1994, I experienced an inner intuitive process asking me to set up a school for higher consciousness in India since India is the last bastion of spirituality,” explains Manize, 65, attired in homespun churidar-kurta. And her search culminated at this 9-acre plot of land near Devanahalli (The abode of devas or angels) facing the famous Nandi Hills, 32 km from Bangalore.
The project became an overriding obsession for her in which she was ably assisted by another devoted soul, Ram Menon, and a dedicated team of workers. The School of Ancient Wisdom became a reality in 1998. At the centre of the campus is the white, monumental Agastya Hall, symbolic of spiritual learning with its awe-inspiring stained glass windows depicting the Cosmos and the story of Involution and Evolution. Outside, a magnificent tall bronze statue of a torch-bearer symbolises enlightenment and bliss.
Amidst fully grown tall jacaranda and swaying silver oaks, yellow bamboos with green streaks, various plants, creepers and flowers of innumerable variety, one can explore many gazebos dotting the cottages and bungalows in which to sit together, discuss, read or meditate. Deep inside the retreat grounds is a forest pool with water lilies and golden coloured fish.
The campus also has a large open ground with physical training facilities for youth programmes. Further down, there is a hexagonal Research Centre and a dormitory to house 36 resident students.
Being one with nature
“So just come, stay here and be with nature,” recommends Manize. People who come for the first time become frequent visitors and thus begin their spiritual quest. Initiates feel the centre is highly conducive to their spiritual evolution. Says Vilasini Kumar, a participant: “This place sows the seeds of spiritual transformation.” V.K. Agnihotri, a bureaucrat, echoes similar opinion: “This outstanding facility puts you in the right frame of mind to introspect and self-realise.”
K.C. Shivappa, Director JSS Mahavidya Peeth, Mysore, was besotted by its sheer mystic appeal. “I have fallen in love with this lovely ‘natural’ institution. This is my third visit; I wish to visit often—that is the attraction this place has,” he admits. Adi Vaccha puts it simply: “I knew this place would be beautiful and I expected it to be beautiful. But that it would be so very beautiful, I would never have imagined.”
For spiritual growth, a spiritual environment is necessary. To start with, a physical transformation is required and the salubrious surroundings make one feel peaceful and happy and inspired to think, opines Dr Mohan, a resident scholar at the School. Suresh Doraiswamy, who attended a course last year, regards the School of Ancient Wisdom as a repository of ancient Vedic knowledge. He believes its serene environment calms your mind and helps you reflect on what you have been missing out in life all these years.
After preparing the ground to think and reflect, individuals go through programmes to help them initiate the process of self-inquiry. The courses offered at the school aim at human transformation. According to Ram Menon: “It is higher mental transformation that percolates down to one’s feelings. The resultant actions contribute immensely to harmonious living and spiritual growth.” Material success alone, he argues, cannot be the purpose of life, for rich and successful people often feel a void in their lives. Everything eventually boils down to the soul factor—for what did the soul come down in the present reincarnation? Did the soul achieve its experience? We find that the soul is often prevented from expressing itself due to differing drives of the ego, forcing it into a life that is contrary to spiritual growth.
So how does one combine the need of the soul and that of the ego? The first step is the willingness to accept the urge for inner transformation. Awareness of the obstacles that prevent us from living harmoniously will bring them out into the clear, revealing strong light of inner knowledge.
Personally, I never was spiritually inclined. I just happened to visit the School of Ancient Wisdom last year, and it was a case of instant infatuation for me. Subsequently I visited it four times over a period of nine months. The suddenness of my wholesome transformation caught everyone by surprise. “You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being having a human experience.” This message had a deep impact on me. I realised what we perceive is confined to the context of our human existence, and what is not perceived is very much in force in a spiritual existence. Today, even when the mind is at work with negative feelings like stress, worries, anger, I can feel the presence of joy and peace within me. Now I do feel anger but I do not stay with it and this has stopped my energy from dissipating. This freedom came to me automatically. Maybe because of a mind devoid of past influences, and a willingness to accept the need for transformation. While it comes from within, one can get initiated in this process of transformation with some external help.
Curriculum of wisdom
The School’s courses currently are designed to stimulate the spiritual urge of the people. The weekend courses of two days and one night are popular because participants can go back to work on Mondays. A series of such courses are interspersed with longer ones in which to consolidate the knowledge.
The topics in these courses can be quite esoteric: Constitution of the cosmos; Universe and the human kingdom; Universal laws of rebirth and of cause and effect; Mysteries of life and death; Thought power, its action and use; Involution and evolution and the divine plan; Occult hierarchy which governs the inner world and the path to perfection. There is also emphasis on ‘Control over the physical body’, ‘Breath control, pranayama and yoga nidra’, ‘Mind control through meditation and music’, ‘Devotion to high ideals and service’, and ‘Fellowship and non-violence’.
Besides, the School tries to bring spirituality into the corporate sector through ‘Principle-based leadership’ courses, workshops to improve ‘Relationships at home and in the work-environment’ and courses in ‘Management of life and livelihood’.
“The School also welcomes courses structured by any individual/institution as long as they remain in consonance with its basic philosophy of spiritual awakening and human transformation,” says Ram Menon. Many workshop leaders and organisations have already started holding their residential programmes there.
The School of Ancient Wisdom is dedicated to preserving and realising the ageless wisdom, which embodies both a worldview and a vision of human self-transformation. Central to its concern is the desire to promote understanding and brotherhood among the people of all races, nationalities, philosophies and religions. Therefore, all people, whatever their race, creed or colour, are invited to participate equally in life and work at the School. It points towards the source of unity beyond all differences. “Devotion to truth, love for all living beings, and commitment to a life of active altruism are the marks of the transformed being—the marks of a truly spiritual person,” sums up Manize.
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