Ashram Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati. Introductory talk to Bihar Yoga Bharati Certificate Course students at Ganga Darshan on 5 October 1998

An ashram is different to a household or an institution. In an ashram there is definitely discipline. This discipline happens at a personal level, at an institutional level, at an ashram level and at your spiritual level. Personal discipline as taught in an ashram is – try to think before acting, don't react. This is the personal discipline. Not everyone can do this. Some can live this discipline five percent, some ten percent, others thirty, fifty, seventy, ninety or one hundred percent. It is up to the ability and effort of the individual.

Then there is the institutional discipline. Certain routines have to be followed if you want to derive maximum fulfilment (I am not saying satisfaction) from life within the institution. The routine of the institution is the main discipline. The ashram discipline is to try and maintain your positivity, optimism, creativity and spirituality. These are the disciplines of an ashram. An institution has a set of disciplines and an individual has a set of disciplines within an ashram environment.

Bihar Yoga Bharati is an experiment in this ashram environment. It is not a university in the usual sense of the word. It is 'deemed to be a university', which means that what it teaches, what it identifies with is comparable to the study of a subject which is beneficial for nurturing and enriching life, if followed as it is taught. I am sure many of you must have compared ashram life to army camp life at one time or another. When you were provided with a barrier and you could not go forward, this kind of thought would have come. It comes into the minds of everyone, but it is part of the process of ashram growth, your growth.

That is what the ashram represents. There are many different centres, locations, areas in the world and they represent different things to different people. There are places that inspire vairagya, detachment. There are areas in this society which represent other things. Some inspire compassion, some inspire love, some inspire commitment, some inspire faith in God, some inspire a set of disciplines, others inspire mind control, self-control. There are different fields of expertise, each one having its own set of thoughts and ideas which nurture a philosophy and a belief.

This is a yoga-oriented centre. It believes in the system of yoga as propounded by Patanjali, as propounded by the hatha yogis and raja yogis, and which is carried on in the lineage of Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda gave a very simple definition of spiritual life and the process of evolution, which was the eighteen 'ities': serenity, regularity, absence of vanity, sincerity, simplicity, veracity, equanimity, felicity, non-irritability, adaptability, humility, tenacity, integrity, nobility, magnanimity, charity, generosity and purity. These eighteen words ending in 'ity' represent the flowering of spiritual life. If one could just live these eighteen 'ities' for eighteen months, one would gain something invaluable in one's life, maybe absolute sanyam, control of the mind.

We identify the sequence of yoga as the eightfold path of Sivananda. Just as we have the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali, we have the ashtanga yoga of Sivananda. Whereas Patanjali defined the aim of yoga as the merging of individual consciousness with divine consciousness, Swami Sivananda defined the aim of yoga as the merger of one human being with its neighbour. Serve, love, give, purify, do good, be good, meditate and realize – these are the teachings.

There have been contributions not only in the social field or in stimulation of the intellectual dimension, but also to something very deep and spiritual. The sadhanas that Paramahamsaji has been doing in Rikhia, such as Panchagni and other sadhanas of the tradition, are being seen for the first time. This is a luminosity that we are seeing in a disciple of Swami Sivananda.

It is this luminosity which further inspires and encourages us to look beyond ourselves, beyond our defined areas and parameters. The feeling comes that life is dedicated to the experience of divinity, whatever one does. When I am in administration this thought inspires me, when I do my sadhana this thought inspires me, when I am with people this thought inspires me and when I am alone this thought inspires me. Yes! There is something in life that can be achieved.

Divinity can be experienced not only by being a recluse, not only by shunning the responsibilities of life, but by doing them in a detached way. That is why here we encourage the participation of everyone in different types of work, hard work, physical work, mental work, intellectual work. You may not appreciate it or enjoy it initially, but once you get into the rhythm and see the benefits you are reaping, there is a feeling, a sense of appreciation that you see growing within you.

That has to be the inspiration, the light which inspires us in our lives. This is yoga, this is spirituality. Spirituality is not only Ishwara pranidhana, spirituality is not only thinking about God all day and night. That is a sadhana to stop the flirtation of the mind, because the mind is like a bee. It keeps going from flower to flower and sticking its needle in to collect the pollen. That is the mind.

A principle can inspire you but only you can live the truth and the reality. That inspiration gives you the strength and the satisfaction. We have to understand things in this spirit. Then you can say – yes, I am a yogi, I am a sadhaka, I am an aspirant. This applies to all the spiritual disciplines and religions, too, whether it be Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, whether it be the Vedic precepts and lifestyle, whether it be a subject, a belief, a philosophy, a thought, a religion like Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism, or whether it be a broad-based universal religion applicable to millions and millions on this planet.

All the disciplines, systems and religions need to adhere to a set of anushasan. Anushasan is not discipline, it is knowledge of the subtle self. This has been the opening statement of Patanjali, too, in the Yoga Sutras – “Atha yoga anushasanam”. What is yoga? Yoga is nothing but a set of different realizations, of knowing that I am this, that's all. It is knowledge of the subtle self, being the seer, the drashta, the controller, the observer of the subtle self, the subtle nature, the subtle personality.

Disciplines are social in nature but anushasan is personal and spiritual in nature. Think before you act, don't react, is an anushasan. Sit down quietly and still the mind is an anushasan, it is a mandate. Perfect harmony in your life is anushasan. It is a mandate of yoga. Yoga is nothing but a set of anushasan by which you can come closer to the inner spirit, the inner nature, and only after that does the philosophy “Let Thy will be done” evolve in life. Right now it is, “Oh God! You do my will then I will think of you.” We offer worship in the temples with the hope that God will grant us offspring, with the hope of overcoming a problem in the home, in the family, in the job, with the hope of having financial security.

Nobody has searched for God with a pure heart. Nobody has worshipped God without a selfish reason. There is a verse by Shankaracharya:

Oh God! Forgive my three great sins.
My first sin was asking you for things,
forgetting that you are omniscient.
I looked for you in different nooks and corners, in temples,
in churches, in homes, in mosques, in gurudwaras,
in shrines, in ashrams, in monasteries,
forgetting that you are omnipresent.
I dared to think about you,
forgetting that you are beyond all thought.
I dared to speak about you,
forgetting that you are beyond words.

This is Ishwara pranidhana. When you and God are not two beings but Tat Twam Asi, I am That, then that stage is known as Ishwara pranidhana. Let Thy will be done. Make me an instrument of Thy peace. Wherever there is discord let me sow love. That is Ishwara pranidhana. This stage cannot be achieved by thinking only. You have to create the right ground for it to be nurtured in your life. You have to think along these lines as well. You also have to see whether or not you fit into this environment, with the discipline and the routine. If you can fit in and adjust, so much the better for all of us. If you can't fit in, then we will say Hari Om to each other.