Taking the Ashram with You

Swami Anandakumar Saraswati

Many people come to the ashram for a period of time and discover aspects of themselves they may not have been aware of before. Sometimes this happens through a release of negativity, tension and false assumptions. Sometimes it is a discovery of a creativity or positivity that has remained hidden for a long time. In every case there is a connection with something within, but somehow more real, more tangible, as if becoming more like oneself.

Life on two levels

The environment of the ashram works in many different and subtle ways, which we may not be aware of at the time that it is happening. This is because the influence of the ashram and the activities within it affect the inner world rather than the outer world. We live life on two levels at the same time – an outer world and an inner world. The outer world is where all the functions of the senses and mind take place; the inner world is the natural home of wisdom and insight.

The outer world can never know wisdom, but access to the inner world of wisdom is found by a correct and appropriate management of the outer world – this is the discipline of yoga. This discipline is not for its own sake, but for the creation and management of the right environment in order to gain access to the inner world. It is that environment and the discipline within it that the ashram provides. It would be very difficult to get it anywhere else, because in the ashram the inner world is fully and clearly understood.

Ashram logic

When we first arrive at the ashram we are accustomed to a certain kind of logic that operates in our lives, which is a product of our influences and conditionings. However, in the ashram there is a different kind of logic at work, which often tends to appear lacking in rational logic to the reasoning mind and the influences it is under. The purpose of the ashram is to break down and dissolve those influences by nurturing the inner life directly, which is sometimes seemingly at the expense of the rationale of the outer life.

When this takes place, something beautiful happens. There is a growing recognition of something different, something pure, innocent and childlike about the inner life, which at first may be viewed with suspicion, because in a hard cynical world it is difficult at first to believe that this is possible. Eventually, the recognition dawns that our hard outer shell is self-made and not natural, and that the inner beauty has its own strength, and that there is surrender to it by realizing and trusting in its inherent truth.

Truth is not so complicated, but we have a tendency to complicate it. It is the unravelling of complication which is at the root of ashram philosophy, living and experience. It is not possible to see ourselves in a clear light unless we have had some experience of living in an environment of clarity and light, and that clarity is often seen as lacking in logic or form or consistency to the rational and conditioned mind. This is good! The ashram will bring chaos to the rational mind in order to undo its self-imposed limitations, because the mind as we know and understand it can never see itself, clearly. Real clarity only comes when the vision has gone beyond the mind.

After the experience of living in the ashram for some time, we are sure to discover something about ourselves. If we allow the light to work its magic, we connect with a more innocent but more real and therefore more powerful inner world, where there is present the timeless witness of every moment; and in the pure yogic sense that alone is real, and all that appears in the outer life comes to be seen as limited and insubstantial.

The ashram in you

When the ashram discipline has been absorbed and understood, the spontaneous reactions become not so much impelled by instinct, but inspired more by the knowledge and insight that comes as a result of the sometimes gentle, sometimes firm, ashram discipline. Then there is a readiness to try out the steadiness of that knowledge in the world at large. Because, while living in the ashram may be essential to discover and pass through the doorway to the inner world beyond the imagination, the ashram cannot always remain as a crutch in one’s life.

One lives in the ashram for some time so that eventually one may continue to try to carry and express the qualities of the ashram in oneself and in one’s life outside the ashram. This is a powerful but, sooner or later, essential sadhana. It is one of the most difficult because it seems that there are many and powerful forces that appear to be trying to obscure the reality of the inner world, which, remember, does not appear real to the outer world. And because the world at large reflects fundamentally only the nature of the outer world, everything of spiritual value must eventually come from within. This is true in any case, but while living in the ashram, the environment there can guide you, whereas the world is full of distractions seemingly bent on taking you away from all that you have learnt there.

Leaving the ashram

Eventually, the time comes to leave. And just as there was something of an adjustment on arrival, so many recognize that an adjustment needs to be made when leaving. Although we have discovered something very valuable in our lives, the process of transformation is not complete and we have to find a way to continue the process, away from the place that consciously nurtures inner awakening and growth, in an environment that does not.

Many report a feeling of increased sensitivity and disorientation when leaving the ashram. How can this childlike innocence survive in a hard sometimes cruel world? First of all, it is best if re-engagement with the world as much as possible is gradual. A period of time to reflect and assess one’s reactions to the different circumstances is ideal. It is perhaps wise to make few decisions at this time, and recognize that you may have found that you have been quietly reassessing many assumptions about your life that will make you choose to alter some things in it. It may take a little time to recognize this.

The power of awareness

The most important quality to maintain is awareness. Try to allow all reactions in any circumstance to take place without let or hindrance, in full view of the actual inner vision of the awakened inner life, but not to act upon those reactions in the outer life. Just by being totally cognizant of the sensation and feeling and thought, without reaction, is what is called awareness in this context. Remaining fully aware of this without reaction will be sufficient to let the natural equilibrium of the inner world assert itself if you can maintain contact with it and allow it to.

This does not mean one may not be affected by the change back to the old environment; very likely it will happen. However, the effect need not penetrate to the level of the awareness, which can maintain its purity at any level if allowed to, though it may take some practice.

One of the main points of interaction with the world is on the level of prana – the manifest energy of the life force that connects and influences us at a subtle level. Ashram prana is pure and focused in its principle aim, which is spiritual in nature. The prana in the world is so varied as to be often diffused, distracting and sometimes dark, even destructive.

Changes in pranic influence may affect the body and mind also. However, even then they need not affect the awareness if you can take the chance not to resist these forces, but discriminate and act accordingly. Discriminating between different qualities is the effect of awakened awareness, and then acting according to wisdom and understanding, rather than instinctive reaction, is the result.

To trust the mind?

Most of all, the activity of one’s own mind and its instinctive behaviour must be seen for what it is, as a part of the outer world and not as a substitute for wisdom, however well disguised it may be. Another way of saying it is: not to give undue respect and trust to the mind unless you have seen clearly its tendencies and inclinations, at least within the context of sadhana and meditation. This is the most direct and particular long-term result of a period of time in the ashram – the gradual transfer of trust from the outer world of the rational mind to the inner world of consciousness. Maintaining that in day-to-day life is the aim.

For any sincere seeker, it is good to spend some time in an ashram environment now and again. Moving between the world and ashram, ashram and world, will help create a third perspective which becomes crucial in surfing the waves of change – all the distractions of life that make up the attempted pursuit of human happiness – and helps one become capable of standing in any circumstance, poised and balanced on one’s own two feet.