Study Circle, Germany

What is a Study Circle?

"What is a Study Circle? It is not just reading books. "Circle, Study Circle" means taking a point and each person discussing what is the meaning of the point to them. Like a round-table conference. Each person gives their point of view, and finally values are derived from this. If there is just reading, there is doubt. But if each one gives his view, doubts will be answered. The topic is viewed; the Study Circle looks at different facets. It is like a diamond with its different facets, but there is one facet that is flat, the top facet, and from this all can be viewed. To discover the top facet is the task of the Study Circle.

Swami's talks may be taken, or other scriptures.

Take a point. Have everyone think about it and discuss it, and come to the final point where doubt is decreased. If only one person reads, there will be only one meaning. All misunderstandings, all points of view --after these are brought out, the Study Circle members will get confidence. There is no doubt of this.

If each one only reads, this may go on for a year or two, then an allergy to reading develops.

Centers must have Study Circles in this way, and none will note the passage of time. Each one listens eagerly and many will give their point of view. The Bible, the Koran, the Gita, Swami's books may be used. What is wanted is a Study Circle; rotating. Each one must be given a chance.

Conversations with Sai Baba,  Hislop, p. 137-138

Practise what you learn

A Study Circle does not mean only just reading and discussing and taking information into the head, but also putting into practice what is learnt. If knowledge is stored in the mind, it causes confusion and confusion leads to blowing of the fuse. How will real jnana (spiritual wisdom) develop if there is too much confusion? For instance, if you go on eating all the 24 hours, it will result in indigestion. This will lead to disease. What is eaten should be digested and then only you should eat again. In the same way, you should listen {eat) in the Study Circle and put into practise (digest)
what you have learnt. Again you can have another round of listening in the Study Circle. Now what you are doing is only loading and loading and no unloading. How much can you sustain like that? So, you should go on loading and unloading, listening and practising. You have to practise whatever you have learnt. Then only it becomes a real Study Circle.

It is important to learn your true nature

In the Study Circle, whatever we listen and assimilate in the mind should be distributed to others. In that way we show gratitude for what we have receded. We should not listen and keep it to ourselves only for our benefit. Whatever we hear and practise should also be distributed to society at large, Such gratitude is very important for man. If one does not have gratitude, he leads the life of an animal. Even a dog shows gratitude if you give a little rice. In the Sathya Sai Organisation, keeping this in mind, we should maintain unity and help the world. Other organisations may not know the inner meaning of this, but in our organisation we should know the inner meaning and we should practise it, otherwise it is of no use. You should therefore be an ideal to others.

In the Study Circle you can learn a lot of things, but the most important thing to be learnt is your own true nature - your Atmathathwa. Learning all about external things without knowing your real self is like studying the branches of a tree, ignoring its roots. There are many fruits on the tree. We can see the fruits. What happens if you water those fruits? They will fall down. But if you water the roots down below, the tree flourishes and will give fruits which can be enjoyed. You have to develop self-knowledge and self-confidence and then only you can help others.

Sathya Sai Speaks, vol. 18, ch. 5, January 1, 1985

Full circle or half circle?

You have joined the study class at Dharmakshetra, and are engaged in poring over all types of books and gathering information and instruction. But, what have you gained? Knowledge about what this author says or that sage teaches is not what your Study Circle must aim to acquire. Not information, but transformation; not instruction, but construction should be the aim. Theoretical knowledge is a burden, unless it is practised, when it can be lightened into wisdom, and assimilated into daily, life. Knowledge that does not give harmony and wholeness to the process of living is not worth acquiring. Every activity must be rendered valid and worthwhile by its contribution to the discovery of Truth, both of the Self and of Nature. Of what use is it to know everything about nature, if you do not know anything of the Self? Nature is only a projection of the Self, and so, unless the Self is known, knowledge of nature is either distorted or deceptive. The Self is Atma, of which the entire Creation is composed, so knowledge of the Self alone can quench the thirst of man.

Every one of you is a pilgrim on that road proceeding at your own pace, according to your qualification and the stage reached by its means. The advice that appeals to one of you or applies to one of you might not be appropriate to another, who has traveled less distance or reached a more advanced state. When I tell one person to follow one line of sadhana (spiritual discipline), it is specifically for his benefit; do not take it as prescription for your benefit also, saying, "Swami told him thus; let me also adopt it." Each has a different make-up - mental, physical, and spiritual. The doctor directs one patient to drink curds and prohibits another from drinking it. When a man is obese, he advises certain types of food; when he is lean, he advises other types. When doctors who treat diseases of the body have to prescribe different remedies, how much more specific and personal must be the remedies for the complex and varied conditions of mental situations and spiritual yearnings and aspirations?

Unless you make earnest inquiry, you cannot discover the remedy applicable to your temperament and its problems. Study with faith and devotion. Delve into the significance and the meaning of what you read, and always have before you the goal of putting what you read into practice. Unless you do so, the Study Circle will remain a half-circle for ever; it cannot be a full circle. And, pay attention to one other point also. Do not confine your studies to this circle and these books. The whole Universe is University for you. You can imbibe wisdom from the sky, the clouds, the mountains, the rivers, the daily phenomena of sunrise and sunset, the seasons, birds, trees, flowers, the insects - in fact, all beings and things in nature.

Sathya Sai Speaks, vol. 12, ch. 30, March 3, 1974

Education in the Sai Era

Study the best means of bringing peace. What can gatherings, meeting and sessions of learned bodies achieve? The conclusions arrived at after extensive discussions are not put into practice at all. Large sums of money as well as countless reams of paper are wasted. The recommendations and resolutions must be tasted on the touchstone of practice. The money can be better spent on raising the standard of life of the village folk.

You have formed a Study Circle. Study the best means of bringing peace and apply those means in a few villages to prove their validity. They can then be taught to people in other lands also. Members of the circle can help students who are handicapped or defective and who have not been able to keep abreast of the rest, by giving them extra attention and special guidance.

Sathya Sai Speaks, vol. 14, ch. 47, February 18, 1980

Holding a Workshop on Study Circles

The Study Circle is an integral part of Sai Organisation activities. Some devotees, especially new ones, may not know the goals of Study Circles and how they work. The quotes from Hislop's Conversations and from Sathya Sai Baba's discourses that are found on this page will be useful in this regard. However, it sometimes helps to hold a workshop at a retreat or conference, where the participants can discuss the Study Circle, with a facilitator leading the discussion. Below are some ideas on holding such a workshop.

It may be useful to hold the workshop like a Study Circle, in the following sense. The facilitator can discuss an issue for 3-4 for minutes and present some point on it. Then, the facilitator can have the participants contribute their ideas and suggestions on the issue. Go around the circle of participants, asking each person for their contribution (if they want to). The facilitator ensures that people don't break in but wait their turn.

The workshop can concentrate on these four issues:

  • A. The goals of a Study Circle
  • B. The process of holding a Study Circle
  • C. The role of the facilitator
  • D. The role of the participant

A. The goals of a Study Circle.

The basic goal of a Study Circle is, of course, to help us understand how better to lead a spiritual life, to come closer to God. As Sai Baba says in one discourse, it is important not simply to read and understand but to find something to put into practice. At the start of the discussion of the goals of a Study Circle, the facilitator can discuss the overall goals, quoting from Sathya Sai Baba. Then, one can ask the participants for their ideas of the goal of a Study Circle. Someone could write their ideas on a blackboard as they come out. Below are a list of goals/subgoals that came out during one Study Circle (the facilitator should not give this whole list --leave this to the participants!).

  1. Learn about Swami's teachings and thus learn more about living a spiritual life.
  2. Learn how Swami's teachings have affected others. This can inspire us, help remove doubts we may have, give us a firmer belief.
  3. Advance spiritually.
  4. See all the facets.
  5. Clarify what we "think" we know --clear up misconceptions.
  6. Support each other in spiritual endeavors.
  7. Discover practical applications of Swami's teachings.
  8. Share experiences.
  9. Slow down our study of Swami's teachings, mull things over.
  10. Get deeper inside Baba’s teachings.
  11. Learn how to put Sathya Sai Baba's teachings into practice.
  12. Be in the company of good people - satsang.
  13. Gain confidence in speaking in public.
  14. Install good values in ourselves.
  15. Recharge our batteries.
  16. Teach us patience (as we wait our turn).
  17. Find answers to problems (through teachings, not group therapy).
  18. Learn how to handle situations where we disagree with others.
  19. Learn to express oneself, overcome shyness.

One important goal that it is nice to let the participants come up with is: find something from the Study Circle to put into practice during the coming week. The Study Circle should not be simply a transfer of knowledge but should result in a transformation of the participants.

B. The process.

The general process is to read a passage, and then go around the circle, giving each a chance to comment on the passage. People should refrain from jumping in when it is not their turn; if this happens once or twice, the facilitator can let it go, but if it becomes a problem, the facilitator has to put a stop to it.

Generally, people should refrain from personal remarks that may harm someone. Also, it should not turn out to be a social therapy session. Ideas like the following cam from participants in one Study Circle.

  1. Give an opinion on what something in the passage meant.
  2. Discuss what you don't understand in the passage and why.
  3. Mention a question that the passage brings to mind.
  4. Describe the effect of the passage on you.
  5. Discuss something that happened to you that relates to the passage.
  6. Discuss how this passage may affect you in the coming weeks.
  7. Answer a question that someone previously posed.

Since the goal of a Study Circle is transformation, not simply transfer of knowledge, the following idea may be good. Near the end of the Study Circle, discuss a teaching that came out of the Study Circle could be put into practice during the coming week. See whether the group can hone in one teaching or principal. At the next Study Circle, one could begin by going around the circle and see what comments people have about how they put last weeks teaching/principle into practice and what effect it had on them.

C. The job of the facilitator.

The facilitator can be any person; it need not be the devotion coordinator.

Being a good facilitator takes practice; it is a skill that has to be learned. Here are some points that were brought up in one Study Circle - again, this list is only for illustration. Don't simply give out this list; let the participants make up their own list.

  1. Select a suitable topic that can be understood by all. Focus on Swami's teachings, although other related material from traditional material is all right to use, too. But there is enough in Swami's discourses and writings to keep us going in Study Circles for many many years
  2. Perhaps bring copies of the material for everyone to have. It should not be too long.
  3. Save paper --instead of making copies, project a transparency or computer screen for participants to read.
  4. Be prepared; study the material before hand, and have other relevant material ready to bring in, if necessary.
  5. Be prepared with meanings of Sanskrit words used.
  6. Keep the discussion under control. Keep it going around in a circle, giving everyone a chance. This can be relaxed a little; if someone steps in to answer a question or something, let it go. But don't let it get out of hand.
  7. Facilitator has to facilitate: keep the group on focused on the topic, keep it moving; when it seems to slow down, move on to another passage or topic.
  8. Use humor.
  9. Have an experience concerning the topic ready to relate, if necessary.
  10. Create an atmosphere that makes participants comfortable. Use humor, eye contact.
  11. Be a polite "sheriff": don't let people butt in too much, watch the time --don't let a person talk to long (2 minutes?).
  12. Avoid personal problems.
  13. Know the organisation guidelines.
  14. Keep cross talk to a minimum, keep people going around the circle.
  15. About non-participants. If someone never participates in the discussion over an extended period of time (6 months?), perhaps someone can talk to them privately about the benefits of real participation and somehow get them to try. This should not be done in a threatening manner; use discretion in trying this! If the person still does not participate, let it go; that's their choice.

D. The job of the participant.

A Study Circle is not a presentation by one person. At its best, it will participation of all who are present. Here are some points that came out in one Study Circle.

  1. Come prepared, if the reading and topic is announced in advance.
  2. Participate! Speak! You get out of something what you put into it.
  3. Listen fully when the material is being read! Ask it to be repeated if you didn't get it all.
  4. Listen fully to what others have to say.
  5. Share your experiences that relate to the topic.
  6. Ask questions that arise.
  7. DO be focused and to the point; stay on the topic.
  8. DO have patience; wait your turn.
  9. DO pass if you have nothing to say.
  10. DO be open-minded.
  11. Talk from the heart, not the head.
  12. Avoid political issues.
  13. Don't make it personal, e.g. don't attack something someone else said.
  14. Don't make it a social therapy session.
  15. Don't take too much time.
  16. Don't talk unless you have something positive to say.
  17. Avoid repetition; don't simply repeat what someone else said.
  18. Don't put on a display of intellectual prowess.
  19. Talk from the heart, not the head.
  20. Don't debate, don't judge others.
  21. Remember that the goal is your personal transformation.
  22. Support the facilitator.

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