Though many people may take pride in their open-minded acceptance of all people, worldviews and ideas, senior computer science major Nathaniel Govinda Wasserman has simply never known an alternative.
Wasserman, 24, was raised from the age of two at Kashi Ashram, a spiritual community in Sebastian, Fla. Born in California, Wasserman and his parents moved to the ashram after the latter met Ma – short for Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati – the "guru" of the ashram who traveled the country giving talks on the importance of tolerance in religion, race and sexuality.
"The ashram is a spiritual community – a home for people who feel spiritual in some way, religious or otherwise," Wasserman said. The ashram, composed of roughly a couple hundred members and spanning across 35 acres of land, was actually founded by Ma in Sebastian because of a history of intolerance – a history Ma sought to change.
Though the concept of the ashram is based on Hinduism, Wasserman was clear that people of every spiritual persuasion were welcomed with open arms. "You could walk around and find one garden with a shrine devoted to Christianity, then in the next find a garden related to Judaism, likewise for Hinduism," he said.
Wasserman's middle name, Govinda, was actually given to him by the ashram, a practice akin to Catholics receiving a "Communion name." Govinda comes from one the names of the Hindu god Krishna, a name Krishna used in the middle of his life.
What may be surprising is that Wasserman doesn't currently practice any religion. According to him, the ashram placed an emphasis on community and spirituality as opposed to the strict passage of religion. "It really becomes a kind of family, and growing up it was always a very warm, comfortable experience," he said.
Wasserman attended school on the ashram until switching to a public high school. "It was a strange transition in a way; there were harsher personalities," he said, adding that, "While tolerance and community were the norm at ashram, these ideas seemed radical in high school."
Wasserman took a year off before attending Geneseo to travel and work, mostly making money to fund his education here. When out-of-state tuition became too much of a burden for him and his parents, he took another year off in the middle of his education and worked on his own in New York to establish both New York State residency and financial independence from his parents. He is set to graduate this semester and has a job as an engineer lined up at General Dynamics, a large U.S. defense contractor in Pittsfield, Mass.
His time at the ashram impacted him in a positive way: "It really left me much more accepting of all types of foreign ideas … While it may seem like a radical way of living, I'm much more willing to question my own beliefs and preconceptions, and understand those of others," Wasserman said.
While he said he doesn't know what the future holds for him, Wasserman still sees his parents in Sebastian when he can, as his mother is still on the ashram, and hopes that he can take on a project with General Dynamics in the Florida area some point soon.