The study circle is an integral part of Sai Organization activities. Some members, 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 in “Study Circle” article 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:

  1. The goals of a study circle
  2. The process of holding a study circle
  3. The role of the facilitator
  4. The role of the participant

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. Sathya Sai Baba has reiterated on several occasions, that it is important not to simply read and understand but to find something to put into practice in our daily life. 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/sub-goals 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 Sai's teachings into practice.
  12. Be in the company of good people.
  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.

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 gently remind members that everyone must be given an opportunity to share their viewpoint.

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 came 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 principle. At the next study circle, one could begin by going around the circle and see what comments people have about how they put last week's teaching/principle into practice and what effect it had on them.

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 should be learnt. 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 Sai Baba’s teachings, although other related material based on spiritual topics is all right to use, too.
  2. Perhaps bring copies of the material for everyone to have or project it on a screen if such facility is available. It should not be too long.
  3. Be prepared; study the material beforehand, and have other relevant material ready to bring in, if necessary.
  4. Be prepared with meanings of Sanskrit words used.
  5. 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.
  6. Facilitator must facilitate: keep the group focused on the topic, keep it moving; when it seems to slow down, move on to another passage or topic.
  7. Use humor.
  8. Have an experience concerning the topic ready to relate, if necessary.
  9. Create an atmosphere that makes participants comfortable. Use humor, eye contact.
  10. 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?).
  11. Avoid discussing personal problems.
  12. Know the organization guidelines.
  13. Keep cross talk to a minimum, keep people going around the circle.
  14. About non-participants. If someone never participates in the discussion over an extended period of time (say, 6 months), perhaps someone can talk to them privately about the benefits of real participation and somehow get them to try. This should be done in a non-threatening manner; use discretion in trying this! If the person still does not participate, let it go; that's their choice.

The job of the participant

A study circle is not a presentation by one person. At its best, it will be run by 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 or dispute what others have said, and don't judge others.
  21. Remember that the goal is your personal transformation.
  22. Support the facilitator.