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Is an Ashram for Me?

Part 1. Part 1 was published in the July 2017 edition of the AHYMSIN NewsletterJuly 2017 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.

Ashram of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG)

History:

Ashram as gurukulam invites adhikarin-students, those on the path of yoga to stay and study under disciplines and guidance of a spiritual preceptor.

 

In the training of yoga, an emotionally balanced personality is developed through the application of a number of disciplines and meditative practices. An ashram or gurukulam is a place where disciples live under guidance, with a number of methods employed by the Spiritual Guide for self-transformation of the disciple. With the choice and commitment made to live an ashram lifestyle as a disciple, one accepts the three pillars of spirituality that is nurtured in the ashram. These three pillars are: discipline, service, practice, which can be described as follows.

Discipline, or training one's inclination, tendencies, and habits, may include a number of ashram guidelines as well as personal practices. Examples of these are: strict daily schedule, prayaschitta or self-observation and self-examination, emotional purification and pacification, respect and obedience in accepting the spiritual guide's teachings and criticisms. The ashram lifestyle is also meant to reduce involvement in experiences and relationships that are not conducive to spiritual progress. Through constant self-observation one is reminded that equanimity in all situations is the primary prerequisite for ashram living.

The second pillar is service, ashram-seva, and known as karma yoga. This means that all one's actions and energies are given altruistically for whatever is to be done. Here one learns to use time, remain attentive, and maintains skillfulness in what one is doing. It also means to carry an attitude of "not-mine", for the fruits of the actions are offered for the benefit of the ashram, teacher, and teachings. One maintains a mindfulness of one's goal and channels all one’s emotions, energies and behavior into fulfilling one's task and surrendering the fruits.

The third pillar is the spiritual practice that supports self purification, and self-liberation. The purification of personality is to free oneself from the habit patterns or samskaras as the latent tendencies that are mainly unconscious and are tendencies to which one is attached and with which one identifies thus remaining confused and ignorant. These come in the three categories of purifications of mind, communication, and behavior. Spiritual training involves all three levels of personality: physiological, psychological, and philosophical. The training in an ashram prepares one for going forth into the relationships, involvements, and to assume the responsibilities one has with a sense of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Through the inner strength of sankalpa or self-determination, a contentment (santosha) marks a spiritual maturity from which one is not distracted, and no longer influenced by confusing reactions or conflicts.

Thus, the ashram life, as chosen by a few rare persons, is a means of nurturing attitudes and behaviors to awaken the realization of purposeful living, and thereby effortlessly transforming oneself as a moral beacon of light for others through the essence of grace that is love.

Part 2.  Part 2 was published in the August 2017 edition of the AHYMSIN NewsletterAugust 2017 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.

In the first article last month, Swami Veda gave the ashramites, in the early years of his ashram at The Meditation Center in Minneapolis, the theme of ashram living in the attitudes and behaviors necessary in developing an ashram community. In this second article, Swami Veda addressed the ashramites of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG), 25 years later, with the same intensity of care, patience and compassion. The themes of discipline, practice and service are also present in his talk in 2004, only in a subtler manner. Again, read with the reflective attitude remembering our theme: Is an Ashram for me?

The word “ashrama” means a place of “labor all round”. A place of making intensive effort, and a means “all over”, “in every way”, “completely”. Shrama, as labor, or intensive effort, means one who labors in an ashram; one who makes intense effort is known as an ashrama. It is a different kind of labor than the labor you skillfully perform each day in your profession. In the world outside, you labor for others, and in the world of an ashram you labor to know your Self.

One’s life in an ashram should be a time of churning, churning, churning and changing, churning and changing. It should be a time of a relaxed intentness. When I am speaking to you in this way, do I seem concentrated? But you know I’m that relaxed while performing my actions. That’s what I want to teach you, intentional relaxation. Relaxed intentness. This should be a goal, very deep spiritual goal for which one is in an ashram.

Time is precious. By how many months or years have you lengthened your lifespan while you were in the ashram by lengthening your breath? Has your breathing changed becoming longer, deeper, smoother, longer exhalations, and without a pause or break. Measure your time in the ashram in this way.
If someone walked in here and did something that makes you angry, would you be any less angry than you were before you left home? When you go back home from here will you be any less angry at such provocations? If you hear disappointing news, will you be any less disturbed?

You have to keep on, keep on, keep on and reduce your karmic debt. Reduce the influence of those vasana, the habit patterns you unconsciously carry with you. Do you see how I walk about? Do I seem burdened or troubled as I perform my duties and carry my responsibilities? And you can change your latent habits as well, so begin NOW. How? Not by sitting idle in a beautiful, comfortable ashram, but by engaging in ashram life constantly practicing, and measuring your self-awareness with each challenging thought and emotion.

If you are sitting here with the attitude of enjoying a seaside holiday, why are you in an ashram? You have a precious two or three weeks; therefore, create something with that time, give new impressions to your mind. Your time in an ashram should be taken to relax. Relax? Yes, intentional relaxation by doing the relaxation practices again and again. Don’t waste time. At home you say, I don’t have time to meditate”, and you say, “Oh, Swamiji, I would so like to come to quiet ashram and meditate.” So you come to the ashram and you still have the habit of not using that time. What should you do? Make use of your time in the ashram to do your relaxation practices, your japa, your meditation, and give some service to the ashram.

We are missing the discipline of an ashram, and I see people just sitting idle, gossiping, or daydreaming. Remember, “ashrama”, means labor all around, complete, internal laboring, changing, churning and changing and examining oneself. Did I add two weeks more to my life by reducing my level of tension? Did I add two more weeks to my life by changing my breathing?

Remember the first sutra of the Yoga Sutras. Everybody talks of yoga, yoga, yoga, but where is “yoga anushasanam”, the discipline of yoga. “Atha yoga anushasanam”--“Now the discipline of yoga,” is the very first sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In the ashram you begin now (atha) with the discipline of yoga. Each student should wake up on time. Otherwise stay in a hotel. I’m usually not this harsh, but I think we have to change the attitudes in this ashram. And the same with the sleeping time. Promptly leave the bed, and promptly enter the bed keeping the sentiment of “atma-tattvava-lokanam”, “I am Atman.”

Sadhana is not just sitting down and turning rosary beads. Sadhana is making change in the small matters such as becoming more regular with your daily schedule, with your meditation. Don’t waste time with a multitude of idle pursuits.

Be ambitious, and build into your discipline a period of “sthala sanyasya.” No stepping out of the ashram for certain periods. Just cut-off, and forget the world outside the ashram. Sthala sanyasya begins with “sthala” meaning a space, place, or area; and “sanyasya” means renunciation. The renunciation of all other spaces except the one to which you are confining yourself. As people start their ashram stay, let them taste these disciplines. What is that sutra? “Atha yoga anushasanam,” meaning self-discipline to reveal the Self.

Be a conqueror. Don’t be defeated by your desires, restlessness, by your angers, by your random speech. Be a conqueror. Don’t be a slave to your urges. That is power yoga. A true practioner of yoga aspires to conquer his anger, conquer his desires, conquer his habit of gossip and random speech. And next, is to become the masters of one’s emotions, able to replace one’s resistances with an even flowing baseline emotion. That is the discipline of yoga, beginning with self-examination, self-purification, self-pacification while in the ashram.

My Guru would tell me, “Try to learn to be a little bit harsher, to be a little bit more of a disciplinarian”, but it doesn’t come easily to me. So my principle is, “What doesn’t come easily to you and you don’t want to do, go do it.” In my life, whatever progress I have made it has been made by pushing myself to do things I don’t like and conquer my resistance till I become neutral. You don’t have to like it, but you should become neutral. This attempt at enforcing some kind of a discipline is also part of my sadhana and the way my Master wants me to be, something I don’t want to do, I don’t like doing, but I have to learn to do, if I want “your” spiritual progress.

So you are here in Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. I think you find this place a little too relaxed, too comfortable, too luxurious. Sometimes I find because I am too relaxed in these matters, there is more of a holiday or resort attitude than an ashrama attitude. But if it’s a holiday let it be a spiritual holiday. It should be a time for re-creating oneself. Then when you leave after three years, or three months, or three weeks or three days, people see you and say you are a different person. And you can accomplish this in the ashram through karma yoga, silence, meditation, svadhyaya and service. Each of you practice japa, and observe silence to sustain this ashram as an oasis of peace.

May your prayers be answered satisfying both God and Guru. Welcome to the ashram.