The Ashram Environment

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

An ashram has a definite role to play in every person’s life. Of course, the whole thing depends on your attitude. You may have a cantankerous attitude towards the ashram, towards the people and towards everything. Or you may have a very jolly attitude while in the ashram towards everyone and everything. You may have an attitude of inspiration, or even one of dejection. These are personal approaches, but these personal feelings do not in any way affect or alter the purpose and direction of the ashram.

An ashram provides us with something which is not, I would say, easily available in society. I am not saying that the ashram is aloof from society, the ashram is definitely a part of society, but it represents a specialized institution or organization, a place of training and learning which specializes in something specific and definite.

What is this specialization? It is a training ground where we can learn to re-train our entire being - personality, body – everything. Why? With what purpose? To gain a deeper experience of our own actions, interactions and creativity.

If we look very carefully at what we have experienced from the time of our birth until now, it has been nothing but an urge to attain status in life: name and recognition, and we have been facing the ever-recurring experiences of pain and pleasure, dissatisfaction and satisfaction. These have been the main activities in our life. However, in the ashram we learn how to stand back from these daily occurrences and try to develop a balanced, harmonious, positive and creative attitude through discipline, which is an integral part of the ashram environment.

Discipline here does not mean following a specific routine or schedule, but finding ways and means of controlling the dissipation and distraction of the senses: the karmendriyas, organs of action, and the jnanendriyas, organs of perception, and directing and guiding the activities of the mind. This is known as discipline.

Striving for sanyam

For this discipline every external aid can be utilized. Do not just confine yoga to the classroom environment. Do not confine it to asana and pranayama only, but exert every effort to make it a part of your life and not be swayed by the normal destructive tendencies of the senses and the mind.

What are these natural and destructive tendencies? Gossip is one of them. Criticism is one of them. (These are the practical things I am talking about now.) Talking negatively is another. Thinking negatively is also one. You can make your own list. A feeling of hatred, anger or jealousy is yet another of them. Discipline eventually leads us to sanyam, restraint, restraint of the senses and of the mind. Then one becomes a yogi.

This must be imbibed from the ashram environment. Yoga should not be confined to the ashram environment in the spirit of learning something worthwhile for life. If you are studying if you are writing or reading in your room in solitude or in the library, then let that be a part of jnana yoga. If you are sitting in kirtan and satsang, let that be a part of your surrender and bhakti yoga. If you are working for yourself or cleaning or sweeping, with ambition or without ambition, let that be part of your continued effort and part of karma yoga. In this way you can definitely make every moment of life a yogic moment. It is this spirit, this concept, this idea, this way of thinking and living which is to be imbibed from the ashram environment.

It is, therefore, necessary that you know the importance of the place to which you have come. It is neither a ‘five star’ nor a ‘no star’ ashram. It is not an ashram which is ‘big’ or ‘small’. It is an ashram which tries to infuse certain ideals into the environment for you to absorb. If you are able to absorb that, well and good; if not, then you are the loser.

Indriya sanyam, control or restraint of the senses, and man sanyam, control or restraint of the mind, are important aspects of ashram life. They apply to everyone who enters through the gate, whether they are coming here for the first time or whether they have been living here for twenty years.

2 August 1994, Ganga Darshan, Munger, Teachers’ Training Course Printed in YOGA, Vol. 5, Issue 6 (November 1994)