The Ashram

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Today people come to the ashram with one aim, one ambition. It is not a clear, sattwic aim; it is an ambition to realize or to become something or to have an opportunity to express their nature and creativity. We have to think clearly about what we want to achieve in life. If we have ambitions for power then sannyasa life is definitely not going to work out. If we have other types of ambitions, such as meditating for twenty-four hours a day or doing sadhana whenever we please, then that is also not going to work out, because it is not the ashram’s direction to fulfil people’s ambitions.

Develop immunity

The ashram is a place where opportunities are provided to develop immunity from the negative tendencies in life. That is my firm belief and conviction. In order to attain this immunity from the negative, tamasic and rajasic environment, one has to be very clear headed. Not everyone who wears geru is a perfect being; sometimes people who wear geru tend to misuse the trust of the guru, the institution and the mission. Geru is only the beginning of a process which continues on and on for life; it is not an end. I don’t become a saint by wearing geru; rather geru represents a trust which my guru has placed in me, hoping that one day I will have the ability to fulfil that trust, to fulfil that mission which he has given me.

The vision of an ashram is immunity. The vision of a sannyasin is transcendence through immunity. In order to develop this awareness, however, we have to discover what we need to do in life. There is no doubt that in the ashram personal ambitions play a strong role because they come out here. But if we have awareness then we can learn how to handle and channel whatever negativity is appearing. We come to an ashram with a desire to become, to attain or to realize something. Then later we may find that the people with whom we are living are often worse than us. Although you are wearing yellow, you may feel that you are better than a person who is wearing geru and has been in the ashram for forty years.

We have to consider the limitations, the ambitions and egos of everyone, and at the same time we have to provide each one with an opportunity for expression. That is the job of the teacher, and it is difficult because often there is also dependency on the teacher. When the teacher provides a person with an outlet through which to express their nature, other people often react and due to their limitations create some crisis or problems or difficulties for that person. The guru or teacher has to manage to keep everyone happy while they may be fighting among themselves.

Discovering the spirit of the ashram

An ashram environment provides many opportunities. If you are aware of them then hopefully you won’t get rusty and mouldy, because you learn to take every day as a new day of your life and not as a continuation of the past. Looking back at my sannyasa life, I feel that I have not utilized my full ability or strength. There is so much more that I could do or could have done, but I don’t feel rusty or mouldy. Whereas for some people spending one day in an ashram can be like one year and they become extremely negative about the whole situation. These are the realities of life. But when I look at my own life, I feel that in all these years I have gone through a process of learning and I am still learning and I will continue to learn, because I am aware of the opportunities an ashram can provide me with.

First, the ashram provides the opportunity to observe one’s interactions with people – whether I react to you positively or negatively and how I can handle that reaction to create inner harmony. Second, how I can maintain my clear-headedness, a clear train of thought and not succumb to negativity from other people. Third, what can I do to support and help other people in whatever they are doing. Fourth, what are the ways by which I can develop immunity from the effects of karmas, of ambitions and ego.

The ashram can provide many, many opportunities in life to those who want them. It is only a matter of discovering the spirit of the ashram and one can do this only when one is in tune with and feels a part of the environment.

—3 December 1994, printed in YOGA Vol. 7, Issue 4 (July 1996)