‘Our spiritual practices and
service to humanity go
hand in hand’
ARTHUR J PAIS
Welcome to my garden,’ said the
farmer to the worm, a volunteer
for the philanthropic organization Prasad recalls an encounter
in a rural pocket of Maharashtra. Some
folks see a worm and say, ‘Eew!’ But
farmers who attended Prasad’s training
on vermiculture and organic composting know better.
In this self-sustaining process, dozens
of farmers pile up paddy husks, dirt,
leaves and other free waste. After mixing and aging the recipe, they add the
worms. Within 60 days, the worms turn
the waste into vermi-castings. The
farmer has a pile of clean, nutrient-rich
castings for his crops, and he still has
his worms to start the process all over
again. Multiply that six or seven times
and it becomes a tremendous asset to
the farmer, at a minimal cost.
Prasad is also showing farmers how to
keep pests away with a recipe for natural pesticide. If 8 lbs of garlic are not
enough to repel the bug, the chili peppers should do the job.
Farmers in Prasad’s Orchard Project
in rural Maharashtra also learn to
enrich the pits for trees with layers of
leaves, compost and other organic
material to give each young tree the
best possible start. With these methods,
there are no toxins.
More than eight years since Bhagavan
Nityananda began a philanthropic outreach program and offered food and
care to villagers of the Tansa Valley in
Maharashtra, the organization — which
came to be called Prasad two decades
ago — continues to offer community
development, health care and education that, it says, improve the lives of
75,000 individuals annually. Most of its
work is in India but it also offers dental
care for children in the United States
and eye camps in Mexico. Its Children’s
Dental Health Program, with its mobile
clinic, provides dental care and dental
health education to more than 4,000
children every year mostly in upstate
New York and in Mexico. Surgeries to
remove cataracts and correct strabismus (crossed eyes.) are also conducted.
Prasad has plans to increase its activities in a number of countries ranging
from Italy to Australia where it has a
Its work was carried on under Swami
Muktananda through the 1960s and
1970s. Between 1973 and 1982, among
its achievements was the construction
of over 1,000 homes for poor families in Tansa Valley. In 1978, volunteers began offering medical services
through a mobile health clinic,
known today as the Shree
Muktananda Mobile Hospital.
In the early 1980s, Gurumayi
Chidvilasananda, Swami Muktananda’s
successor as the spiritual head of the
Siddha Yoga path who is working mostly through New York, increased the
number and the scope of these initiatives to include nutrition, community
development and specialized medical
programs. In 1992, she brought all
these projects together under the name,
The Prasad Project.
Chidvilasananda’s organization has
chapters in most American states and
in more than 50 countries. Volunteers
and devotees from worldwide are asso-
ciated with her charitable work. From
Nityananda to Chidvilasananda, the
Siddha organization has been aware
that spirituality cannot exist in a void
and community empowerment work
has to be a mission
‘As we walk the spiritual path, the
inner work of our spiritual practices
and the outer work of service to human-
ity go hand in hand,’ she reminds the
faithful. ‘As we understand and experi-
ence oneness with all of creation, we are
drawn to serve others. In the Siddha
Yoga tradition, a number of charitable
and service projects exist to support this
longing of the heart to give.’
Prasad — short for Philanthropic
Relief, Altruistic Service And
Development — bases its humanitarian
work on essential aspects of Siddha
Yoga philosophy and culture: Service,
commitment, and respect for all people
regardless of their race or belief.
Chidvilasananda also supports The
Prison Project, dedicated to disseminating the Siddha Yoga teachings and
practices to incarcerated individuals. It
is part of the Siddha Yoga philosophy
and culture area of the SYDA
Foundation and is based in the Siddha
Yoga Ashram in Oakland, California.
Muktananda, Chidvilasananda’s guru,
founded the project in 1979.
Six thousand inmates in over 1.500
prisons in North America, Europe,
Canada, and Australia are enrolled in
the course. The project has over 70
trained satsang facilitators who conduct satsangs in prisons.
Chidvilasananda has said, ‘The gift of
life must always be recognized and
never be taken for granted. Why is life
so precious? In Siddha Yoga philosophy, we recognize that in this human
life we have a rare opportunity. We can
transform an ordinary perception of
this universe into an extraordinary
vision. To be on this planet and to
behold the universe from the divine
perspective is a sign of an illumined
heart. To put this vision to best use in
the best way possible is a human being’s
True 20/20 vision
Something about the work done by the Sankara Eye Foundation in Coimbatore caught Murali Krishnamurthy’s eye. That, and some impetus from pressure from his uncle P Balasubramaniam, who
used to volunteer there, led him to establishing the Sankara Eye
Foundation,USA in 1998.
“The turning point came when my brother Sridharan visited the hospital in Coimbatore in 1997. He came back very impressed. He told me,
‘Murali, you may not have a good impression of charities in India but
divine work is happening at this hospital in Coimbatore. It is so clean and
they give such loving care to the patients.’” And that led to the the formation of the US wing of the organization.
Considering setting up a non-governmental organization is one thing but keeping it running is
another. It happens, though, that Murali’s neighbor Ahmad Khushnood Kazi is a CPA, who could
help him with the paperwork and handhold him through the filing for 501 c-3 (non-profit) status.
Within a year, Murali, Sridharan and Ahmad set out to eradicate curable blindness by 2020.
“Our volunteer Rajeev Chamraj suggested a big vision – Vision 20/20 by 2020. Now this movement has increased from 8,000 free eye surgeries in 1998 to 140,000 plus free eye surgeries at
nine hospitals in 2012. This movement is now unstoppable,” Murali said.
Murali first feared that people would avoid him if sought money from them, but the grassroots
movement now has over 45,000 donors from all over the country.
In 2012 alone, Sankara organized around 20 small and big events all over the country, including in parts of Southern California, the Bay Area, Seattle, and the states of New York and New
Jersey. The events aimed to raise awareness, especially in new areas while also raising
funds. Direct revenue, including donations, could reach 500,000 dollars. In addition, Sankara
also puts up booths at various events organized by other organizations across the country.
It earned $50,000 from the Chase Community Giving Campaign and Sevathon. The India
Community Center, Milpitas, honored it with the Seva award.
“It’s going to be the best year in revenue for Sankara so far,” Murali said. “But there’s a need to
do a lot more in Southern California, the states of Texas, Illinois and other areas of the country.”
It helps that the Sankara Eye Care Institutions in India have received the Right to Sight award
for the best community eye care hospital in India. The money helps SECI, India perform over
150,000 free eye surgeries, making Sankara the largest totally free eye care provider in the world.
Sankara has already helped perform over 140,000 free eye surgeries at nine Indian hospitals –
in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand and the
Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The tenth hospital should be ready in Kanpur, Uttar
Pradesh, in early 2014.
Sankara needs to build 11 more hospitals to achieve its goal of 20 hospitals in India by 2020. It
plans to launch several projects simultaneously and to reach out to a great many more people.
“We will surely build 20 hospitals by 2020 but my personal dream is to build many more than
20. That can happen only if we get a lot more support from foundations, the government and individuals,” Murali says.
“We want to do more but at the same time keep the overheads low. How do we do it is the main
challenge. We need to automate processes and work smarter,” he says.
“Many children all over the country are foregoing their birthday gifts and seeking donations be
given to Sankara. Couples are seeking donations to Sankara in lieu of marriage gifts,” he said,
adding that people are calling friends home to let them learn about Sankara’s work.
Sankara’s work has given him a purpose in life, Murali says.
“I have made thousands of friends all over the world and that has enriched our lives tremendously. I am learning every day – how not to be prejudiced,how to do things more efficiently, and
how to work smarter,” he said.
The only other passion in Murali’s life is song.
"Jyot se jyot jalate chalo, prem ki Ganga bahate chalo, raha mein aye jo deen dukhi, sabko gale
se lagate chalo," is the song he sings at all fundraisers.
Murali certainly lives up to those standards.