The 25-year-old tattooed-punk realized that coolness doesn’t have much to do with being all grunge and wearing black nail paint. It has to do with growing from within and becoming more and more centered. Priya Mani - YES+ teacher did her TTC (Teacher’s Training Course) at the age of 22 and life as she saw it never remained the same – “It just got funkier”.
Dressed in a pair of jeans with a cotton shirt, red glasses, and a glamorous, shiny green belt, shares Priya, “I always wanted to pursue art and fashion designing, but I unfortunately fared very well (in tenth grade) and ended up doing Science like most south Indians. I did my Engineering in Mumbai after that, which was the last nail in the coffin. I was miserable, but I made great friends and got creative in college.”
'The moment I saw her, I knew I wanted to be like
her, talk what she talks and teach what she
teaches. I just knew it. Can you believe the course
hadn’t even begun and I’d already thought of teaching'
She did her first YES+ course (“it was called Young Adults at that time”) when she was in eleventh grade after her mother forced her to go at least for the 1st day, “I knew about Guruji and Art of Living because my parents had done the course. So there happened to be lots of satsangs in the house and I loved them. But sitting still with eyes closed, wasn't my thing. When I think back now, I’d done Reiki and before that, I was in Chinmaya Mission, so, I’ve nearly been born and brought up with a guru! Anyway, I succumbed to my mum's wishes more so because the course was to happen in a very ritzy place in Mumbai. I thought at least I’ll see some hot guys, if nothing else.”
But it was an intimate course with just four people and, “The teacher was so beautiful and she said, ‘Why don’t we start the course tomorrow and you get a friend each - more the merrier’. She was serene, and spoke so well with that permanent smile plastered across her gorgeous face. The moment I saw her, I knew I wanted to be like her, talk what she talks and teach what she teaches. I just knew it. Can you believe the course hadn’t even begun and I’d already thought of teaching,” laughs Priya and continues, “I went back home and my mum asked me if I’d go tomorrow and I said, ‘Of course. In fact, I’ll take some of my friends along’. And I took two of my friends and then, six of us did the course together. It was very beautiful. Then, what stood out the most for me was my teacher. But now, I know that it was the guru in her that I was enamored by.”
Soon, Priya helped organize a few YES courses in her own college and got into the habit of greeting her friends with ‘shambho’ instead of using foul language, however, “A few days after I did the course, I stopped practicing the kriya, and each time my mum would force me to do the kriya - I’d lock myself in my room, sleep for half an hour, and lie about having done it. And my mom always thought that I was that special child - a guru child. But I lied like this for three years!" "In college, I got into bad habits. But each time I did something wrong, something used to stop me. In the back of my mind, I guess I always knew my true calling," smiles Priya. The switch somehow happened after a gap of three years once she was a part of the first YES+ course that Bawa and Dinesh conducted in Mumbai. But the deal was truly sealed when I did the Advanced silence program. That brought about extreme clarity and then there was no looking back," informs Priya.
Soon after, she decided to study advertising and copy writing at MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad) to explore her creative side. Being rich and famous along with teaching the Art of Living was her goal. But before she joined MICA, she sat for the first YES+ TTC, “When I entered TTC (Teacher’s Training Course), I’d figured that now that I’ve got through MICA, I’ll eventually be a creative director in an advertising agency and once in a while, teach a YES+ course here and there because I'll be so good at it anyway! Basically, absolute lack of humility. But when I sat on the TTC, during the final days, they ask you, if you want to be a part-time teacher, you can sit on one side and if you want to be a full-time teacher, you can sit on the other side. For me, it was obviously part-time (rich and famous, remember!) , but when the time came to choose, it was as if an invisible super-power had gripped me and made me sit on the full-time side! Well, after MICA, I have been a full-time YES!+ teacher ever since."
Today, she spends at least 15 days in a month in the Bangalore ashram, says Priya, “Mainly I organize a lot of things for the Winter Break and the Summer Magic that’s for 2,000 plus youth. That’s when I’m used the most creatively, so all the education doesn’t go waste. I do something on the concept of The Amazing Race - it’s a race around the ashram. And since it’s for a large number of people, tremendous management skills and team work is involved. Madness ensues!" Also, she’s been organizing and taking courses in Manipal University, VIT (Vellore Institute of Technology), Mysore and Bangalore, all the while subtly altering lives around her.
Priya narrates one such experience with a student, “Once on a course, there was a task of helping someone, and I remember this boy Gokul, who shared that he went to his college and spoke to this sulking guy who he didn’t know, and asked him what was wrong. And that guy cried to him and said, ‘I’m going to commit suicide because I failed in two subjects and my dad won’t understand’. Gokul went to the boy’s place and spoke to his father and explained how the boy had promised to work hard the next time and out of fear was contemplating suicide. The father started crying and hugged his son. Actually Gokul saved a life. And Gokul feels that it’s all because of me, because of doing the course. I was moved. This is what the guru does through you!,” expresses Priya. Gokul, by the way was into extremely bad company, but now has a clean lifestyle. His friends are in awe of him now.
Priya, who spends a lot of time with youngsters who are getting to experience and understand the concept of a guru, says, “I’m friendlier to them than being teacher-like all the time and I love their company because they ask me things like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this for the rest of your life, instead of a real job?’. We have these interesting conversations and I play along, but it never shakes me - I’m also surprised but it never does.”
But what’s surprising is the way her friends from back home view her present way of life, “It’s very funny because earlier they used to make fun of me and now they call me when they are in trouble and say, ‘Can I come and stay in the ashram for a month. I badly need to meditate man’. And I say, ‘Hello, you are the guy who embarrassed the hell out of me in college!’. But now it’s all coming around. I feel so special that they now look up to me and they are so happy to know that I’ve found what I love doing, because they perhaps earn more money than me but are still not sure about what they really want to do neither are they half as happy!”