First Impressions

It is two years since I was last at Ganga-Darshan but, at that time, most of us were still living down at BSY and only coming up here to work on weekends or on special occasions. On first entering the place this time I was a bit overawed. At least for the first two days I was here I wandered all over in open-mouthed, open-eyed incredulity.

We drove in under the gateway and up a sweeping paved drive. Was this the same road we had sweated over such a short time ago? I shall never forget the weekends- hours of standing in lines passing metal plates filled with sand from hand to cut hand; then flinging the sand over the roadway and throwing the empty plates back to the beginning again. How we counted the minutes until breakfast time when we could all squat down on our heels around Swamiji and eat as much mura (rice bubbles) bananas and coffee as we wanted. Later, when fatigue was growing, Swamiji would be running around with us. With his dhoti tucked up he would work first with one group and then with another, encouraging us to greater and even greater efforts.

Now any reminders of the aching muscles (no Radox baths here) and the deep heavy sleep of exhaustion are quite buried under a neat brick-edged and flower-bordered drive.

And that was the second source of wonder- the gardens. Wonderful terraced gardens so carefully tended and being expanded at a great rate. A transformation is taking place before our eyes.

Lastly, we come to the buildings. It takes the newcomer some time to find his way around, and if, now, the sheer size of the buildings is overwhelming after the confined intimacy of life in BSY, imagine what it will be like when the immense seven storey structure on the top of the hill is completed.

The atmosphere of Ganga-Darshan is quite different too. Swamiji says the definition of Tantra is 'expansion and liberation.' It seems to me that with the huge expansion that has taken place in the move from BSY to up here, there has been an accompanying sensation of liberation. Female sannyasins are still gloating over having a large room each. Swami Shantananda claims she is running the 'hostel' and that is exactly what it is. As you climb the wide staircase and look down the length of the broad corridor with its polished doors opening off down each side, you could be in any large hostel or international ashram in the world. Then in Yoga Arogya one sees rows of offices, each department having several rooms at its disposal instead of having several departments all struggling to find space in one room. The Press seems to stretch into infinity, and from the top of all the buildings the sun can be seen setting over the Ganga.

Along with the general spaciousness of everything and the pleasant surroundings to move around in, there seems to be an overall sense of relaxation, a lightening of restrictions and control. Perhaps this is only superficial, one needs to be in a place for some time to be able to assess such things accurately and it could be only a temporary phenomenon. As more buildings are opened, there will undoubtedly be an increase in the number of intensive courses, classes and research programs and this will necessarily cause a very heavy work load for all inmates. Let us hope that the future does indeed yield such activity but also that the number of resident sannyasins increases accordingly to help share the burden of running, maintaining and generally keeping the ashram up to the high standard it has always held in the past.