The Essence of the Ashram

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

I never thought of starting an ashram. When the great rush of students and devotees came to me for spiritual guidance, with a view to helping to them and to make them useful to the world, I found out their talents and hidden faculties, created various fields of activity for their evolution and for the public good, encouraged them in their studies and their sadhana, and arranged the necessary comforts and conveniences for their board and lodging. Thus Sivananda Ashram came into being. In the course of time, I found around me a huge ashram and an ideal institution with a congenial environment – a big spiritual colony – Sivananda Nagar.

I did not work with big plans or schemes. I did not approach any great person for money. A little help came from a divine source and I carefully utilized every cent of it to bring maximum spiritual good to the world. In a short period, the work grew. Regular classes began to be conducted on yoga, bhakti, vedanta and health. The Divine Life Society came into being in 1936 and today over 300 students live by my side with all comforts and conveniences, tread the path of yoga, and serve the world in a variety of ways. Students of different cultures and faiths come from various countries and stay with me for weeks and months. Devotees from all parts of India come to the ashram frequently and join in the collective sadhana and satsang.

Shelter for all

When students come to me, I do not enquire about their qualifications, position, parentage, caste or capacity. I welcome even thieves and rogues, persons of tender age and also those who are sickly and old. I know very well that they will all become dynamic yogis when they are put in the company of sages and saints, or when they are allowed to stay in a place charged with marvellous spiritual vibrations.

The spiritual vibrations of the ashram have a great beneficial effect in moulding people on the path of yoga. Thousands have felt this. I do not impose any rules or restrictions on aspirants. Any number of people can come and stay here for as long as they like and go out the moment they wish. Spiritual aspirants who come and stay here for months or years find that there is scope for spiritual progress both as workers in the different institutions of the ashram and as silent meditators in the temple precincts or the jungle retreats of the neighbourhood, and each chooses his line according to his bent of mind.

The highly devoted aspirants who appreciate selfless service for their own evolution spend all their time in carrying out useful works and manage the affairs of the society. It is all yoga for them. They are all yoga bhrashtas, living examples and models for the world. Thousands of aspirants have come to the ashram. Several hundred have gone out, after proper training, either for intense sadhana in seclusion or dynamic work in cities, yet the ashram is always full and every day at least a dozen highly educated candidates crave permission to live here. The students are mysteriously helped by attending satsang and bathing in the holy Ganga. Through some work, they all come in close touch with me and learn a lot in a short period. They develop all the divine qualities quickly and without much effort, and become great yogis.

Tackling trouble triggers

When I have serious complaints that a particular aspirant disturbs the peace of the ashram or interferes with the smooth working of the institution, I ask him to go out and live independently in some other suitable place. I give him enough money for travelling expenses and a note of introduction to devotees to help him. I give him spiritual advice and pray for his welfare and enlightenment. In a few days or weeks, he feels the ashram as his own sweet home and comes back with a changed angle of vision and heart. I heartily welcome him. I forget the past easily. I permit useless persons, pessimistic people and even those who criticize me and attack the management to stay in the ashram. After a short stay, they are transformed miraculously. I see joy and bliss on their faces.

The kitchen is the fighting centre in an ashram. All sorts of troubles and misunderstanding, hatred and jealousy among workers emanate from the kitchen. I can easily find out the taste, temperament and spiritual progress, and control of the senses of the students from the stories I hear from the kitchen. That is the main centre of disturbance in an ashram. However, it is the best field for quick spiritual evolution, for developing cosmic love, sympathy, mercy, patience and generosity. People are trained to adjust and adapt themselves in a marvellous way here.

Harnessing hidden potential

People complain that they get more food and facilities than they need. The inmates feel very rich and happy. Some may look like ordinary villagers, a few may not have had much education, but I find that everyone who lives in the ashram is a great saint with wonderful hidden faculties and talents. Prominent persons who visit are stunned to see the wonderful development in the inmates. I have unlimited, spontaneous generosity, love and affection for all students of yoga, irrespective of their age or gender, qualifications or abilities. I provide ample scope for all types of people to remain in the ashram and evolve through sadhana or work for the spiritual upliftment of mankind. I take special care of the old people, young aspirants and helpless, sick persons.

I permit people to have their own ways and to work in any field suitable to their taste and inclination for some time, and create in them a natural taste for the right line of work and sadhana. I do not compel anyone. People cannot change their habits in a day at the ashram. If they attempt to, it may affect their health. They may not be able to do any kind of sadhana by making a sudden, drastic change in their food, dress or relaxation. When they attain mental purity and willpower, all the negative habits drop away by themselves. The mysterious influence of the ashram atmosphere has its own effect also. This sort of freedom enables even a dull kind of aspirant to feel quite at home in the ashram, to plunge into dynamic work and develop hidden faculties.

Leaving the ashram

Due to prarabdha (actions already performed which are bound to fructify in the present life), vikshepa (tossing) of the mind, craving for sensual enjoyment or luxury, curiosity to see various places, people try to go away from the ashram. Some advanced students, after some years in the ashram, like to gain some experience from meditation in the interior parts of the Himalayas. I admire them and give them all facilities. Some students who have a pushing nature desire to help humanity and to go out on lecture tours. I organize spiritual conferences and send them to various centres.

There have been a few students with powerful sense cravings who criticized me, abused the ashram and the whole of the Himalayas, and left in anger. I blessed them and prayed for light, knowledge and proper understanding and inner spiritual strength for them. They all come back to the ashram with a thorough change of heart. I welcome them with great love and affection. It is not through compulsion or rules or regulations that people can be transformed into divine beings. They all must have convincing experiences of their own.

An ideal to uphold

An ashram is a glorious centre to ensure world peace. Spiritual organizations with high aims and objectives should be started only by self-realized persons who are absolutely free, perfect and unselfish. If they are started by selfish people, they become fighting centres and a menace to society and bring ruin to those who are associated with them. In the long run, through ill-managed institutions and ashrams, people lose faith in God and religion, and condemn all mahatmas as pseudo yogis. Sometimes selfish persons start spiritual institutions as business undertakings. They misguide people.

Even an ashram started by a self-realized person may become polluted later on by mercenary motives. Many enthusiastic people start ashrams with a fine letterhead. That is not enough. It needs special faculties to run an ashram successfully. The founders must have an extraordinary capacity to serve mankind. Then and then alone can real service be done at all times. The head of the ashram and the inmates should lead a life of vairagya, absolute renunciation. The ashram run by such people stands as a centre, a nucleus of perennial peace, bliss and joy. It attracts everyone. Millions all over the world derive inspiration. The world is always in need of such ashrams. People come with many motives (such as attaining material and spiritual benefits) and they are all stunned to have their wishes fulfilled in large measure. Glory to the Lord for bestowing this ideal centre to all seekers of truth!