The meaning of ashram is not a monastery. Ashram does not even mean a temple or a dharmashala. Ashram means a place where shram, hard work, is performed. The word ashram has emerged from the ancient Vedas. There are four ashramas: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. What is the kind of shram in brahmacharya ashrama, student life? To study hard and stay within discipline. That is hard work. Dont you work very hard in order to study? That is brahmacharya ashram. What is required in grihastha ashrama, householder life? Marriage, children, earning a living all this is hard work. What is the shram involved in vanaprastha ashrama, retirement? Try to forget everything. To leave everything is also very hard work. It is very difficult to renounce. The way one has to work hard to create something, one has to work equally hard to let go of it. The maximum hard work is in sannyasa ashrama, for the aim of sannyasa is to try to go inside and see the effulgent Supreme Spirit that remains hidden there behind a veil.
The second aim of sannyasa is to be involved in the welfare of all people in the external world. The sannyasin has to carry forward that which he has been given in trust. It is for this that he enters a specific sannyasa tradition and accepts that tradition. He goes to a guru who tells him what to do.
The aim of sannyasa is to improve the human society. The sannyasin works to alleviate the conditions of the hungry, the sick, the poor, the needy and the distressed. He uses his whole life for their benefit. He uses his entire mind and resources for their benefit. The word sannyasin means a trustee. It does not mean a renunciate as written in the books. Sannyasa is formed from the word nyasa, which means a trust. A householders house is only for him and his family, but nothing that a sannyasin has belongs to him; he is only the trustee. This means that his mind, feelings, the strength in his body, resources, connections, experience all these must be for others, not for himself.
A human being has many riches other than money. The biggest wealth is the body. The second is the mind. The third is experience. The fourth is associations. All this is wealth. If the wealth belonged to me it would go to my family, but if I was only its trustee it could not go to them. It would then go to that for which my guru initiated me into sannyasa. The guru said to the initiate:
All physical manifestations are gods.
Therefore, work hard for the welfare of all beings. This is the shram required in sannyasa life.