Ashram, Gurukul, Lifestyle and Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is a gurukul?

A hospital is a place for therapy, consultation and treatment. Many people only go as out-patients to see a doctor, but there are other people who go for hospital life. They stay in the hospital for a week, a month, and they are treated with different therapies. Those who go for hospital life and those who go for medical treatment are two different groups, but those who go for hospital life also have the full benefit of the medical treatment. The same principle applies to the ashram or gurukul. The word gurukul literally means the family of the guru. Kula means family, but the definition of the word does not indicate what actually happens in a gurukul.

The ashram is a gurukul. Yoga is only one activity of the ashram, yoga is not the ashram. The actual ashram is a gurukul. People who come for health management, teacher training, or yogic studies courses have come for yoga, while there are other people who have come for gurukul life. These people not only catch hints about yoga, but they also receive glimpses into a different and spiritual lifestyle.

Our spiritual lifestyle begins not with a high-flying philosophy, but with a very practical awareness of what is happening around us. The guru has no role to play, but each individual has a part to play in making the place what it is.

There is a simple theory in quantum physics. If one picks up a stone and places it on an altar, and every day lights a candle, places a flower and worships the stone, in the course of time that stone will gain energy. It will have power in it and it will be able to help you attain your own peace and stability.

This is not just the case in quantum physics, but it happens all around. People find solace when they go to a temple or keep a statue in their own home to worship. The connection an individual has with a place or with an object is a very powerful connection. One is giving one's energy to that place, that piece of rock or that statue, and it is coming alive.

A gurukul is not made by the guru but by everyone who is living there. The simple formula is, "If you give, you will receive." If people give faith, conviction and belief, they will receive it back tenfold and it will become part of them. It is the people who are nurturing the energy of a place, and the place is giving it back to them.

If people were to start thinking violent and negative thoughts tomorrow, the environment would change. However, everyone has come to Ganga Darshan with a sattwic focus, which is positive, understanding and adaptable. People are benefited by identifying with this aim and aspiration.

Where people have lived with the same aspiration and aim and have striven to achieve something, it is called tapasya, austerity. Munger is the place of the yoga tapasya of Swami Satyananda. Since 1963 many people have come with a positive intention and sankalpa. They have created the environment and made this place what it is today.

Ganga Darshan, 8 May 2009

Gurukul lifestyle

Human nature in general is a conditioned nature. There are many impressions on the original blank page of our mind, just as when you enter a country you are stamped 'entered' in your passport and when you leave you are stamped 'departed'. In the same manner, different circumstances, routines and events leave impressions in our mind. These impressions, if they are looked at from an objective point of view, are powerful forces that carry one through life. Swami Satyananda has said many times, "What helped me in my life was not the academic learning in school and college but the practical training that I received in the ashram." If you can see the validity of this sentence, then you have understood in part what a gurukul is.

The purpose of yoga is to focus the mind, whereas the purpose of a gurukul is to open the mind. When you practice yoga, you learn how to focus the mind through asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Every attempt in yoga leads to bringing the mind to one point, whereas in the gurukul, the mind is not focused, it is opened and broadened. This opening of the mind begins when you are exposed to different situations. When you are willing to derive the right understanding from each experience, that indicates opening of the mind.

Opening the mind

Most of the time, we prefer not to open the mind. That is our conditioning and self-identity. Our limitations come to the forefront and stop us from opening the mind. A clear example of this is in the conflict that people have with each other. The so-called 'bright and brilliant' or 'intellectual' people are unable even to manage their own reactions. You have all gone through the same experience. Sometimes anger sets in, sometimes frustration, rejection, sadness, self-pity or arrogance. All these things lead to a reactive response. If you misunderstand someone, even if you fight with someone, that reactive response is coming from the mind; and you are not willing to see what the appropriate action at that time is. You only want to impose your own ideas or ego. That is an indication of how the mind shuts down and does not allow an opening.

Whenever I see a person reacting, I know that the mind has gone. That is the truth. They cannot even move for the rest of the day, because they have lost control. When I see people loving each other with harsh words and punches, I know that they are lost. They dupe themselves into thinking that they are right, and forget that they are shutting the mind down and going against the very principles of yoga, ashram and gurukul. When you do not try to understand and appreciate everyone's role, then the idea comes that this person is trying to bug me, which leads to the downfall of consciousness. This is the human trait.

The need for change

When we expose ourselves to different situations and events in the gurukul, we have to learn how to manage them with a positive and constructive state of mind. It seems though that most of the time, people are unable to find their own way and need guidance. The more you can rise to the challenge and create a switch in the mind to adjust and adapt to any situation, the more the mind becomes free from its own limitations and hang-ups. The mind is able to come out of its shell. The mind has to move from a dark experience to a luminous experience. The tamasic mentality has to change into a sattwic mentality, the conditioned mentality into openness. This is the most difficult training that you can have.

If you look at people who have made a mark in this world, you will find that all these people have faced difficult situations with a smiling face, not with a frown. Such people have made a difference to themselves and to their lives and that is what is important. To make a difference in someone else's life is not a major achievement, but to make a difference in your own life is the achievement. If somebody is sick or hungry you can help them, but if you are not aware of yourself, if there is no change and you just continue to be what you are, what you do to make a difference in other people's lives has no meaning.

You have to go through the education systematically. You knew how to talk before you went to primary school. You knew how to talk before you learnt how to write. Just because you knew that, did not mean you would go to school and tell the teacher, "I don't need to learn the alphabet, because I can already speak." In the same manner, what you know is not enough; you have to live what you know. Ask yourself, if you live what you know. You will be surprised, because the truthful answer will have to be no.

There has to be an effort to rise above and go beyond the pettiness of mind, rather than going on imposing your identity and position, and holding onto the grip on power. Otherwise there will be no spiritual advancement. You have to take a few steps if you want to know how to live what you know. In order to know how to live, we come to lifestyle.


Most people think that peace and realization come when we close our eyes, but this is not the case. When you close your eyes, when you meditate, you are only releasing stress from the mind. You are not attaining or experiencing peace. It is like the ostrich that puts its head in the ground, leaving its whole body in view and thinks that nobody can see it. That is the position at the time of meditation. Therefore, instead of hiding your head in the sand, you simply have to keep it up, look around and enjoy. As a spiritual aspirant, your tendency should not be introversion, but try to be as extroverted as the mind will allow you to be. Extroversion does not mean being dissipated or distracted. It means being aware of everything. The awareness has to be extroverted, not lost in unproductive thinking and following the trail of the mind and senses.

For most of the time that is what people are doing. When you follow the mind and senses, stresses are created. Meditation is useful for that. When you stop following the senses and the mind and you become the drashta, the seer, then everything is seen in the scope of your vision. That is the attempt we are making in the gurukul lifestyle. Everyone is very happy with their own lifestyle _ having breakfast in bed, going out with friends, watching movies, enjoying a comfortable and happy life. You can do that, you have that option, but if you choose to come to the ashram, you experiment with something different. The lifestyle offers you the chance to experiment within yourself.

A meditative, reclusive lifestyle is not appropriate at a young age with all its expectations, passions and desires. Swami Satyananda has said many times, "You can go to the Himalayas in search of peace, but you will not find any peace, because you are going with all the baggage in the mind, your emotions, feelings, thoughts, expectations, passions and desires. If you do not leave anything behind, but take the whole lot with you, there will be no peace for you there. However, if you are able to manage yourself and your mind, even in the middle of the market place you will be in absolute and perfect peace." This is not just a saying, but a sadhana that has to be practiced.

The gurukul lifestyle provides the opportunity to discover ways by which you can manage your reactions and responses, by allowing yourselves to be subjected to different situations and learning from them. That is the foundation for development, growth and success in life.

Ganga Darshan, 30 July 2008

Beyond yoga practice

Yoga is a series of practices and a philosophy. People who practice the techniques and live the philosophy are yogis. It is your expression in life which is important, not what yoga can do for you, but how you use and apply the knowledge and wisdom of yoga. Yoga provides you with good physical health, with a sound mind and with the inspiration to discover and explore your inner spiritual nature. Beyond that, how you live and express yoga depends on the next level of experience in your life and yoga. If you decide to live a reclusive life and not have anything to do with society, then yoga is purely a subject confined to your personal experience. However, if you continue to live an active life with greater awareness of the environment and other people, and you begin to apply the yogic thoughts, concepts and philosophies in your life and express them, then yoga will flow through you to other people and towards society.

The yoga of Swami Sivananda

Different people at different times have given indications as to how human existence can be uplifted by each one supporting and helping each other. These thoughts and ideas have changed from time to time according to human need. The ideas which remain constant and are related to human behaviour are the ideas defined by Swami Sivananda as the next stage of yoga, after having perfected one's personal experience through sadhana. The common factors to help and uplift human life are ideas prevalent in every society, philosophy and religion. Most people have never seen them as practical ways to live life, but have always believed them to be an interpretation or a theology. The practical way to live these ideals has been defined by Swami Sivananda in very simple words as service, love, giving, purifying, connecting with the good, acting in a good way, introspecting and realizing. They may sound very simple, but if you try to understand what they mean, you will discover that they define the creative and pure expression of human nature.

The idea of service is not only serving somebody, but also connecting with a feeling, a thought, an act, and recognizing it to be a way to attain inner purification as well. Everything can go through a process of change and transformation. Everything can be purified, transformed and transcended. It is the understanding of yoga that in this life, everyone has the ability to transform, to change and to transcend, provided they make the effort.

Although yoga is a practice, if it is applied in the right manner, it can uplift an entire community as well. This is not the benefit of yoga, but it is you expressing the benefits you have gained through yoga. Yoga is you, and you are the creative person. Yoga makes you into a creative being, and it is up to you to use your creativity to support and uplift other people around you and in that process the community, the society and the human civilization as well.

Ganga Darshan, 12 October 2009