Teachings of Sri Swamiji

Purpose of Ashram Life

Yoga has gone around the world. We have ashrams practically everywhere, on every continent, in every country. In this way, a network of ashrams, and also yoga schools, has spread all over the globe. But ashrams are different from yoga schools. I use the word ashram because it postulates a very important idea of expression: physical, mental, intellectual and emotional, which we find very hard to do anywhere else.

There is a pattern of life in the ashram which is completely different to the pattern of life you have in your environment or homes. Ashrams have to be different and they have to provide, to create opportunities and facilities for the aspirants to live there more simply and to work harder, not softer, than they have ever experienced before.

In Sanskrit shram means effort or labour. A person who is working hard is doing shram. Working hard on the physical plane in the kitchen, in the garden, in construction, cleaning, in management, etc. is external or physical hard work. That is also shram and that is one aspect of ashram life.

At the same time, there is another way or dimension of working hard and that is the inner dimension: spiritual labour. You are trying to tread upon the path and you have undertaken an uphill task for yourself. It is not flat, plain ground. You have to pass through mountains, fields, valleys and many difficult terrains. You have to face various areas of your personality, and for that you also have to work hard.

To concentrate is to do stupendous labour. That is also shram. Meditation is inner labour. Working in the ashram in the form of kriya yoga is also shram. That is why I have chosen the word ashram rather than yoga association, yoga academy, yoga school or anything else, because I want to make it clear that you come here for shram, labour, and the harder you work, the better the quality of relaxation. If you are a lazy person, the quality of relaxation will be inferior. If you are labouring hard, physically, mentally and spiritually, if you are a hard worker on the external as well as on the internal plane, then the quality of relaxation will be superior.

A yogi or a sannyasin works for the purification of his awareness. There is dross over your mind and you have to clean it, but it cannot be cleaned unless you involve yourself in karma, in action. Therefore, a yogi or a sannyasin works with detachment for the purification of the self. Detachment is not renunciation. I’m not talking about renouncing a thing. I’m talking about living with the things of life, with people, without attachment. It is a philosophy, a way of thinking and a level of understanding also.

Everyone should understand that they must spend some time every year in an ashram to express their physical, mental and intellectual energies, and to create things – bring forth vegetables, fruits, houses, roads, rooms. You have to create. That will give you a new idea after some time and that is going to be a discovery. After involving yourself with the ashram work mentally and physically, you will discover something. You will find a new idea, a new approach to the experiences arising from your interactions.

You may have learned various forms of yoga and say you can practice that at home. You may think that the ashram will only teach you about the inner self and higher awareness, etc., nothing else, and that you already know all that. But that is not the sole purpose of an ashram; that is the aim of a yoga school. You can go to a yoga school and learn all the hatha yoga, raja yoga, laya yoga, this yoga and that yoga, theoretical and practical yoga. A yoga school can give you no more than this academic training, but an ashram will give you the training which will influence the deeper layers of your personality.

The deeper layers of your personality pertain to the unconscious about which you don’t know. When you look at a beautiful flower, you know it, you experience it, you understand it. You are aware of the entire process of influence, of impression on your mind. There are many things in your life which are influencing you, but you do not know it.

These influences or impressions do not go through the conscious mind. They go straight away into the unconscious, sometimes through the subconscious, but not through the conscious mind. Of course, every experience which passes through the conscious mind is transferred to the subconscious and finally to the unconscious, and every experience has a form.

Look at a flower, clouds, trees, rain, light, bad things, repulsive things, good things. They are creating vibrations. They are related to your mind, to your understanding and thereby they create an impression. That impression is called a samskara, a seed. The seed of a mango, coriander, wheat or rice, is called samskara, impression.

These impressions keep on flowing throughout your life and you are simultaneously absorbing impressions on various planes of your consciousness, not just on one plane. Inside your mind there is a video camera which is switched on day and night from the time you are conceived to the time you die. Everything without exception is continuously being recorded there.

No influence or impression can be missed. Everything is there, but at various levels. There are certain impressions which are imposed on your mind by circumstances and events. You can erase them through self-analysis, but there are other impressions which cannot be erased.

You can understand them, but you can’t erase them, because every experience passes through various layers of your mind and finally gets embedded in the unconscious mind, the storehouse of karma. In this storehouse of karma there are billions of these samskaras. They are preserved there with absolute accuracy. They come out in dream, or sometimes in the form of recapitulation, memory. They come out during the moments of imbalance, during emotional fits and during meditation. They come out when you are angry, violent, compassionate and tranquil.

These samskaras which are embedded in your consciousness in millions and billions and trillions are formless, but each seed is different and each has a relationship to one of your experiences in life. We experience not just one thing, not just a few dozen or a few hundred, but thousands and thousands of experiences pass through our consciousness every day.

From the time we are born, up to this day whatever we have gone through, lived through and experienced is there. It is not destroyed. Where does it come from? It was there and we are able to bring it forth.

All these samskaras or impressions which you take in throughout the day and night, consciously as well as unconsciously, are the components of your personality. That is what you are. You are not just this body, no! You are not just the habits, but something beyond this. The personality, the composition of the totality of the experiences which the individual has had right from the time of conception to the point of the grave and maybe before and later – how is one going to manage with this totality of experiences? Ashram life can helps you to manage with the known and unknown areas of your experiences and personality.

The whole universe is embedded together, united by one thread and that thread is in you, in me and in everyone. We experience this when we come to stay in the ashram for some time. When we have caught a glimpse of that totality, we are able to return to our homes with a new vision of life, which helps to guide us through even the most difficult situations.

—Rocklyn Ashram, Australia, 1984, published in Teachings of Swami Satyananda Vol.V