The Story of SASTRI
The Master Archive of all of Sri Gurudev’s Satsangs
After 19 years of some very intense and challenging work, this project has finally been completed. The last satsang was imported at 11:30 AM, 24 November 2014. Therefore, I thought it would be nice to relate the background story, its history and development
SASTRI is an acronym that stands for Satchidananda Automated Satsang Text Retrieval & Indexing. Sastri is also a Sanskrit word, meaning one who is versed in the Sastra (Hindu scriptures). This database has already been used for many of our publications, books and the Integral Yoga Magazine, including searches for lecture topics and for individual personal interests. (See below for policy on how this is done.)
Here is the story, offered with gratitude and love.
Sometime in 1994 I was given charge of our reception desk and bookshop. Things went rather well for a bit until it did not, that is to say it got crushingly dull. I therefor decided to quit this post and take on something more interesting. In my way of thinking, I could not just quit; rather, I had to propose a new job to focus on. So I put a set of proposals to the administration. These proposals included getting on the maintenance crew and learning electrical work (only slightly absurd, as I had done stuff for them previously) and some other things which I have forgotten.
One suggestion was that I create a system for cataloguing all the satsangs of Sri Gurudev. I observed that, up to that point, all of Gurudev’s public talks had been typed up nicely, printed, and put into an enormous set of three-ring binders. That set of binders had been neatly shelved in the archives, locked up, and forgotten. It occurred to me that this wasn’t particularly useful, in that there was no practical way whereby one could retrieve anything on a specific topic. What good is even the greatest teaching if one cannot access what one is interested in?
Shortly after I had put my proposals to the Ashram Board, Swami Karunananda let me know that while the other ideas had merit, the idea of cataloguing the satsangs of Sri Gurudev was the one that jumped out to them.
However, I had NO IDEA how to do this, none whatsoever, except that there must be a way with computers. Sometimes knowing nothing is good. Then, a tiny light blinked in the mind: I had heard about a new project at the University of Virginia (UVA) known as the Electronic Text Project. Through one friend, I found out who was in charge and where this project took place. I then boldly went there to see the man in charge, David Seaman. David was a very proper, posh Brit, always in tie, blue blazer, and khakis ‒ very proper indeed. He had a teeny set of offices in the Clemons Library.
When I presented my idea to him, I heard the words I had been waiting to hear: “Yes, this can be done; we are doing that very thing here.” He then showed me in detail how it was done: hardware which included flatbed scanner, automatic doc feeder, a good computer, proper back up system (Jaz drive, later an Orb drive and then a tape backup), etc., plus the most up-to-date OCR software. It all looked pretty straight-up to me. Well in truth I had half a gazillion questions, all of which he answered quite patiently.
Well, all of them except for one. He could not tell me of a practical data-base software because they all used university licensed software which is REALLY expensive. Now remember this was 1995, and there was no really good internet. So I did my search in the only way I knew, and that was by checking the micro-fiches (you youngsters will have to Google that) of old PC mags which I knew had reviews of all sorts of computer stuff, including software. I really had no idea what to look for. But in about an hour I hit on a product that seemed perfect and was priced very reasonably. The company was called AskSam, a small company in the Florida panhandle. I called them and got the information I needed. It looked like the perfect application.
Having gotten some preliminary data, I composed a brief outline of my idea with a very basic “guessstimate” of its cost and sent it off to the Board members and Sri Gurudev. A week later at the end of satsang, there was the usual massive crowd surrounding Sri Gurudev. Being rather shy, I was just standing there in the middle of the crowd. Suddenly I felt someone push me to the front right near Gurudev, who then turned to me and said,
“That’s a good idea, but it sounds costly.”
“Yes Sir, but it’s worth it,” I whispered.
“Good, you should do it then.”
I next compiled a very detailed list of every item I would need, including the names of merchants, exact prices and so on. I then wrote a synopsis of my proposal, submitted this to the Board with a copy directly to Sri Gurudev, and proceeded to play the waiting game. About three or four weeks later while in the library (my second home) fiddling with the smoke detectors, the phone rang. I jumped off the ladder. It was Sri Gurudev calling, something that had never happened to me before.
“What are you doing?”
“Right now I am working on the smoke detectors, Sir.”
“No, I mean what are you doing about your project?”
“Ah, well Sir, I am waiting for the Board to approve it.”
“Yes, yes – why do you wait? Tell them I approve.”
Yikes, wow! That was the exact the conversation word for word. I was set – The Master gave me the go.
“Wowee Zowee,” I said out loud where no one could hear. I straightaway called all the companies and made about a dozen orders for all sorts of hardware and software, etc. The total cost was about $1,900.
Stuff stated arriving soon afterwards along with all the invoices (there were no e-mails in those days). Soon all that I needed had arrived. It took about three to five days to assemble all the hardware and install the software. In those days there were no USB’s and no CD’s, so all the software was on floppies (youngsters look it up). The scanner and other big hardware got hooked up via SCSY (pronounced “scuzzy”) cards (yep kids, you know what to do). So everything took longer than it would now. Installing the SCSY cards required opening the computer, attaching cables, restarting and figuring out the settings for each device, and installing the software for each device. (There were several devices on the system, in a chain.) And having to do all of this ONE item at a time, along with using those floppy discs, took a long time.
Now I was ready to go. Almost.
Well, I needed a name for this project. What to call it? What to call it? What to call it? The question kept repeating itself. OK, I took a bit of paper. Obviously it had to have the name Satchidananda, and naturally the word Satsang would be in there. After a bit I included the term Automated. I wanted a snappy acronym, because in this age that is what folks do. All of a sudden, without any further thought, the whole name came and there it was ‒ “SASTRI”. Kazam!
The next step was to get the key to the archives building and retrieve those 3-ring binders a few at a time – there are about 80 of them, each holding some 190-250 pages. Then came the heart of the project itself. Using the automatic doc feeder (ADF) attached to the flatbed scanner, I was able to scan a full Satsang in about fifteen minutes, then do the OCR (Optical Character Recognition – I used the top-rated OCR app, Omni-Page Pro) and create a Word doc in ten minutes. BUT since even the top-level OCR program was far from perfect and created a lot of errors in the text, there was always a massive amount of editing to do. I discovered that there were a number of common errors consistent across all the documents, so I created a short set of macros to correct them at one stroke by simply pressing a key letter + Ctrl. This bit saved a major amount of time. Next step was importing the completed document into the search engine – AskSam Pro.
[N.B. A few weeks prior to all this, I had traveled to DC to meet a fellow who used this app so that he could walk me through the whole process. That took about thirty minutes. Now I was set. ]
So it went: Scan – edit, edit – import; Scan – edit, edit – import; Scan – edit, and edit – import – on and on and on. During this time I also managed the library, classifying and cataloguing many incoming books, doing inventories, and all that was required there.
In my spare time I got our internet connection started; got our domain name registered; created our first web page and kept that going for three years, meanwhile dealing with a series of major medical issues. Things went on this way for a long, long time.
Every year or so we updated the software, and after five years we got a new computer – Hooray!
At some point I came to the very early talks (1966-1970). Almost all of these were transcribed on very poor typewriters, or the ink had simply faded out. In any case none of them were fit for scanning. I then had to make copies and found a good friend to retype them all. That took a few more years.
When all the scanning was done, I thought that was it – “I’m done – WAHOO!” However, that was not to be. It came to me that I had to check the archives, you know; “just in case I missed something, just in case”. Checking the archives, the archive logs and Shakti-com logs, I started finding hundreds of talks that were never transcribed. When I combed through the archive’s boxes and boxes of cassettes, I found even more. I ended up with over 350 tapes. What must I do? Digitize, of course. But, just how do I do that??? I did not know how to do it.
Well, that very day (Jung called this “Synchronicity”) my dear old friend Ramanan Shultz “just happened” to show up and it “just so happened” that this was his very job at UVA. I asked him how to do it, and he told me.
“Well you need a tape deck and Audacity software that you can get for free. Plug it all in, install software, and you’re good to go.” I did all that. But as you know you must do this in “real time”; there is no short-cut. I also gathered up boxes and boxes of our special Sannyas meetings, “Family Meetings”, all sorts of things including talks done in other countries etc., etc., etc. Thus began the next phase.
Then – Digitize to MP3, create CD’s to give to transcribers
In between there was still the library and more medical stuff.
Step by step by step though, we are getting closer.
Now I had to find people who had the typing skill, can understand Sri Gurudev ‘s accent, and who had the time and the willingness to transcribe all this. Many, many, many people were involved.
At some point during this process, after I had done 800 or so satsangs, I invited Sri Gurudev to see what was happening. Swami Vidyananda also came by to video record this meeting. I showed Gurudev the program and all its parts. He then said. “Very, very good. You were born to do this.”
“Does anyone else know how to use this?”
“So what will happen when you are gone?”
Well, since then I have trained several people in the basic methods of searching and have written a complete manual.
We are getting close, folks.
The digitizing of all those tapes took a really long time. Finding people to transcribe also took a long time – all this took years and years. Added to everything else was the major reconfiguring and renovation of the library, which added eight to nine months to the project.
Finally, coming to the end, there were several tapes that were so degraded that no one would be able to understand them. But as I am quite used to hearing what Gurudev said, have excellent hearing, and a really fine sound system, I undertook to do those files. But since my hands and fingers are somewhat disabled and therefore I cannot type well, I purchased the Dragon Naturally Speaking app, which worked just fine after some training . Thus, I was able to do transcribe the damaged tapes.
Finally, at 11:30 AM on the 24th November 2014, the last Satsang – 27 March, 1975 ‒ was imported into SASTRI.
OM TAT SAT
For any subject, please put specific topic (be as specific as possible ‒ not just something like “hatha yoga”), send an e-mail to [email protected] with subject in body of letter. Only one search per letter. I will then compile a document with all pertinent citations, which will include the date of that cite. It usually will take four to five days to get the document back to you, so plan ahead. Service is gratis for IY publications, all IY workers, and for IY lectures & talks. There is a $35 charge for individuals living outside IY, not living in an institute or at the ashram, and who are not IY ministers. This fee goes to support the Ashram library.
So many people were involved in helping with transcribing that I cannot remember all their names. Of course none of this would be possible without the supreme dedication and love of Sri Gurudev. It is to Him that we owe the greatest gratitude.
Many people typed the original transcriptions. First and foremost among them was Swami Hamsananda, who over so many years was the sole person doing this job.
There have been many people who came forward to do this job. Among them are: Fiona Ream, Lisa Dean Hawkins, Anthony Haro, Ananda Radha Andre, Barbara J. Sims, Sundaram Gross, Donna Strumm, Barbara Dhyana Stiefel, Cindy Nichols, Lynn Mukti Meffert, and Candy Lavender.